Economics

Catherine Mohr: Medical Research, Technology and Innovation

She calls herself “a tinkerer at heart.” And ever since Catherine Mohr walked into a Boston-area bike shop looking for a high school job repairing drive trains and spokes, the New Zealand-born surgeon and inventor has taken tinkering to a mind-boggling high art here in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Catherine Mohr is the Director of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical, the global technology leader in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. In this role, she evaluates new technologies for incorporation into the next generation of surgical robots. In addition, she is a Consulting Assistant Professor in the department of Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine where she works in the development of simulation-based curriculum for teaching clinical skills. She is also a Medicine Faculty at Singularity University and an Advisor in the Future of Health Systems Working Group of the World Economic Forum.

Dr. Mohr received her BS and MS in mechanical engineering from MIT, and her MD from Stanford University School of Medicine. During her initial training as a mechanical engineer at MIT’s AI Laboratory, Mohr developed compliant robotic hands designed to work in unstructured and dynamic environments. Later, while pursuing an MD degree at Stanford, she identified needs for new laparoscopic surgical instruments and collaborated to develop the first totally robotic roux-en-Y gastric bypass, and invented and then started a company to commercialize the “LapCap” device for safely establishing pneumoperitoneum.

She has been involved with numerous startup companies in the areas of alternative energy transportation, and worked for many years developing high altitude aircraft and high efficiency fuel cell power systems, computer aided design software, and medical devices.  She spoke twice at TED Conference. At her TED2009 Talk, she tours the history of surgery, then demos some of the newest tools for surgery through tiny incisions, performed using nimble robot hands. At her TED2010 Talk, she walks through all the geeky decisions she made when building a green new house — looking at real energy numbers, not hype.

To learn more about her works, please visit her official website.

The following is an interview with Dr. Catherine Mohr about Medical Technology, Innovation and Creating a Better World. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Catherine, I really appreciate you taking time to join us at eTalks. I am thrilled to have you.

Catherine: Thank you for the invitation, it is great to be here.

Niaz: You are the Vice President of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical, where you develop new surgical procedures and evaluate new technologies for improving surgical outcomes. You have profound experience and a body of great works in the field of Medical and Disruptive technology. In addition to that you’re very passionate about the futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At the beginning of our interview, please tell us a little about your background and how did you get started?

Catherine: I am originally from New Zealand and grew up in Boston. Although, you can’t infer either of those facts from my accent. I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist, but my path to medicine wasn’t typical. As an undergraduate, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and built and raced solar cars as part of MIT’s team. That led me to working in alternative energy with Paul MacCready at AeroVironment working on hybrid electric cars and fuel cells. It was a wonderful time, and I remain very committed to sustainable technologies – encouraging kids at every opportunity to consider careers in science and engineering.

Niaz: Tell us about the road that led you to the world of robotic surgery. It was not a straight path, it seems.

Catherine: It wasn’t until after many years of working as an engineer that I went to medical school. I was in my 30s, and hardly the typical medical student. In many ways, I ended up in medicine because I was very interested in getting back onto the steep part of the learning curve. I loved engineering, but I had become an engineering manager, and I was looking for a new challenge.

In medical school, I was doing a lot of research in surgery and surgical technologies as part of my schooling. I encountered the da Vinci Surgical System and I started doing procedure development with one of my attending surgeons. We both work for Intuitive Surgical now – she as the Chief Medical Officer, and I am the VP of Medical Research.

Niaz: Intuitive Surgical is a high technology surgical robotics company that makes a robotic surgical system. Today, Intuitive Surgical is the global leader in the rapidly emerging field of robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. We would like to learn more about Intuitive Surgical. Can you please tell us about Intuitive Surgical, its current projects and also how it has been innovating our future?

Catherine: The flagship product at Intuitive Surgical is the da Vinci Surgical System. It allows a surgeon to operate with full dexterity and capability, but through tiny incisions. The da Vinci System has been a major part of the increase in the rates of minimally invasive surgery in many types of procedures where surgeries were too complex, intricate or just too fatiguing. As of early this year, we estimate that there have been two million procedures done worldwide with the da Vinci System.

Current research and development projects at Intuitive Surgical are aimed at increasing the capabilities and decision making resources of the surgeon while continuing to decrease the invasiveness of surgical therapies. The goal is always working toward better surgeries that are less invasive.

Niaz: The da Vinci Surgical System is a sophisticated robotic platform designed to expand the surgeon’s capabilities and offer a state-of-the-art minimally invasive option for major surgery. It has been using all disruptive technologies like robotics, high- definition 3D camera and so on. Please tell us what is the da Vinci Surgical System and how does it work?Catherine: Although it is often referred to as a “robot”, a more appropriate description would really be “telemanipulator,” as it doesn’t make any autonomous decisions of its own. To operate the da Vinci System, the surgeon sits at a console which has both a 3D display and a pair of input devices, which capture the motions of the surgeon’s hands and the da Vinci System moves the surgical instruments in a precise, scaled replica of the motions that the surgeon is making. This is coupled with a 3D camera so that the surgeon sees the instruments in the display superimposed over where they feel their hands to be.

Sitting down at the console, moving these input devices, and seeing the instruments move exactly the same way is the “intuitive” part of the process.

Niaz: How is robotic surgery, using something like the da Vinci system, better than the old-fashioned way with human hands?

Catherine: The human hand is rather large – at least when you are thinking about making an incision in the body large enough to fit that hand through. The da Vinci instruments are only 8mm in diameter, so they allow you to bring all the capability of that human hand into the body, but through a small incision. This is much better for the patients, as they get the same operation inside, but they heal more quickly with less pain.

Niaz: If we look at the evolution of surgery, we can see really huge changes have happened since last the two decades. With the rapid acceleration in human-machine interaction, the potentiality of robotics in surgery is going to be very vast. How can innovations like robotic-assisted surgery change the world of surgery?

Catherine: The changes haven’t only been happening on the surgical side. The improvements in surgery will come partly from synergies with advances in other parts of medicine. Some of the most exciting things that I have seen have been improvements in diagnostics and screening. As we find cancer earlier and earlier when it is easily cured surgically, we won’t have to do huge reconstructive operations to restore the function that would have been lost by cutting out the larger tumor. This gives us the opportunity to further reduce the invasiveness of our surgical therapies by moving to even smaller incisions, or going in through the mouth and avoiding external incisions entirely.

Niaz: What do you see as the future of robotic surgery? What are our core challenges to reach to that future?

Catherine: As we look at reducing invasiveness, we always want to be able to build things smaller while maintaining strength and precision. Interestingly enough, some of the biggest advances in robotics may come from new material science and machine tools.

Niaz: As an expert in the fields of robotic surgery and sustainable technologies, you’re passionate about realizing the potential benefit that appropriately applied technologies can have in our society, and inspiring the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s important problems. Can you please tell us about some interesting and tough technological problems that you want next generation of entrepreneurs to solve?

Catherine: Apart from the new materials, many of the opportunities to do extremely small interventions will rely upon being able to navigate within the body – like having a GPS for the body. Today, we can map the body with things like CT or MRI imaging, however, the body does not stay static. Organs move constantly, which makes navigating with a preoperative image like trying to follow a GPS map while the roads are constantly changing and moving, but your map never updates. Solving these problems would make it easier to make surgery even less invasive.

Niaz: As you know, it’s really hard to do scientific breakthroughs, to build companies like Apple, Google, Space X, and Tesla, to do something in massive levels with truly disruptive technology. I would like to hear your ideas on doing breakthroughs, coming up with authentic disruptive innovation and on building next big organization?

Catherine: It is solving problems that matter that is the key to these disruptive companies. The problems that matter also tend to be hard, so you need to be patient, and dig deep into the technology to get to solutions. None of the companies you mention are short on ambition, they all started fairly small, and they are deep experts in their technologies.

Niaz: Do you believe Silicon Valley is still the best place to build next big technology company?

Catherine: It is the best place because its historical success has led to the intense concentration of tech talent. However, the shortage of housing and the resultant astronomical housing prices make attracting people to come to Silicon Valley who aren’t already here rather difficult.

Niaz: What does actually make Silicon Valley very special?

Catherine: Critical mass. The concentration of talent, and the expectation that you will fail a bit before you succeed continues to attract the ambitious with big ideas. People cycle through startups gaining experience, and they keep going until they do succeed.

Niaz: You’re a medical technology pioneer, a mechanical engineer, and an expert in robotic surgery. Prior to going to medical school, you worked in the field of alternative energy transportation and sustainable technologies, working for many years with Dr. Paul MacCready at AeroVironment developing alternate energy vehicles, high-altitude aircraft, and high-efficiency fuel cell power systems aimed at reducing our world’s energy consumption and emissions. Can you tell us about how do you connect all of your skills, expertise, ideas and knowledge to break through the threshold in any specific field to get the best out of it or build the big things?

Catherine: Much of what I do involves understanding how the problems we are trying to solve are part of large interconnected systems, and thinking about optimization across the entire system. Optimizing only one part of the solution at the expense of the other important parts is counter-productive. For example, maximizing energy storage without considering weight for an airplane, or improving surgical capability without making it easy enough to operate safely. The big interconnected problems I like to tackle involve many of the same skill sets, even if they are in far flung areas like sustainable energy and surgery.

Niaz: How beneficial is it to have a multi-dimensional background and expertise?

Catherine: Attempting to solve all of these big programs are always team efforts. The myth of the lone inventor is just that – a myth. You need huge diversity of skills on a team, but that very strength means that teams often have difficulty communicating, if the background and experiences of the team members are too different. The people who have experience, background and training in several fields act as the linkers and translators within teams. I like to joke that I am “trilingual” – I speak Geek Speak, Medical Jargon and English – three mutually unintelligible languages. Being able to explain the clinical to the technical and the technical to the clinical is a valuable role.

Niaz: As far as I know you hold several patents. Please tell us about your patents?

Catherine: Most of these are in the area of manipulation or vision on the da Vinci System. You’ll notice that few, if any, of those patents list me as the sole inventor. Invention tends to come when you are solving a new problem with a team, and have the opportunity to try novel solutions. The best ideas are also often hybrids of many people building upon and improving each other’s ideas as you solve a problem together. Patents certainly serve a purpose in that they give you a period of time in which to use an idea before a competitor can legally copy it, but it is the teamwork and problem solving aspect of it that I enjoy the most.

Niaz: What is your favorite part about working at Intuitive Surgical?

Catherine: Getting to remain on the steep part of the learning curve – medicine and technology are changing so rapidly, that keeping up with what is going on is a constant process – one that I enjoy very much.

Niaz: As Vice President of Medical Research, what do you do on a daily basis? What is a normal day like for you?

Catherine: I’m not sure if I really have a normal day. Some days are lab days when we are in the research operating room developing new procedures or testing out prototypes of new instruments. Other days involve traveling around and both speaking about our technology and learning about new technologies from their inventors. And, some days involve trying to look out into the future to see what changes are happening in medicine so that our next products fit the new needs that are arising.

Niaz: What other kinds of projects or initiatives have you been involved in?

Catherine: I started playing the cello recently, and through building our house and blogging about it, I have been active in the conversation about green building and native plant gardening. Recently, I have also started working with GAVI, the vaccine alliance, on technologies for tracking vaccines in developing countries.

Niaz: You wanted to save the world, or at least a piece of it. But you just weren’t sure how to go about it. And now in 2014, we can see your profound body of works that have helped to change the world of robotic surgery and sustainable technologies. I know there are still a lot more to come. What would be your advice for the ones who want to follow your footsteps and change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Catherine: Focus on the problems that matter to you, if it matters to you, it probably matters to other people too. People make the mistake of focusing on what they think other people want, and then their hearts are never really in it. Without passion you won’t have the drive to do all the really hard work that comes with trying to make a difference. People are very impatient for success now, but it will never come unless they take the time to become deeply educated and skilled in the areas needed to be able to make a contribution.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Catherine: The technologies that will probably shape our future careers are in labs somewhere. I expect I will reinvent myself several more times as those technologies come out of the lab and start changing our world.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Catherine: Thank you for putting this program together

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Further Reading:

1. Andrew Hessel on Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science

2. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

3. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

6. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

7. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

9. Brian Keegan on Big Data

10. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Andrew Hessel: Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science

Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes ahead in life science. He is a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk Inc.’s Bio/Nano Programmable Matter group, based out of San Francisco.  He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.

As the co-chair of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at the Singularity University, he addresses the disruptive shifts underway in life. He speaks widely on topics that include cells as living computers, life science as an emerging IT industry, and biological safety and security. He is active in the iGEM and DIYbio (do-it-yourself) communities and frequently works with students and young entrepreneurs.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and follow him on Twitter.

The following is an interview with Andrew Hessel about Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Future of Life Science. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: You are a genomic scientist and consultant in DNA technologies. Working with leading academic and commercial groups, you have traveled the globe for more than 15 years in the exploration of digital biology, the successor to recombinant DNA technology that is transforming DNA into an easy-to-use programming language for biological systems. Your work is empowering a new generation of young researchers to tackle big biology related problems like sustainable fuel production, environmental cleanup, superbugs and cancer. At the beginning of our interview, please tell us a little about your background and how did you get started?

Andrew: I really love technology, particularly computers, but saw living things as special. I wanted to understand how they worked, so majored in cell biology, microbiology, and genetics.

Niaz: What first got you interested in biotechnology? Tell us about the road that led you to the world of biotechnology, synthetic biology, and genomics?

Andrew: I was interested in DNA code and realized that using computer programs to organize and analyze it would be very powerful. I started to write software and databases. Combined with lab bench skills, this gave me some unique abilities at the time. I was hired by Amgen, Inc. in 1995. It was an exciting time, with the Human Genome Project ramping up and Internet and biotechnologies booming. I learned a lot, fast. One of these lessons was how valuable a small genetic program could be. Amgen’s phenomenal success could be traced back to just a few hundred bases of genetic code.

Eventually, the draft of the human genome was published and the economic bubble burst. Things slowed down. I took some time off to reflect. I realized that it had only taken 10 years for scientists and industry to build the technologies needed to read large amounts of DNA. It seemed reasonable that DNA writing technologies would also evolve quickly. I started tracking improvements in DNA synthesis, the core technology that makes synthetic biology possible. The field was still very small. I was lucky to meet many of the pioneers of synthetic biology early on. It was like Silicon Valley in the early days, only this time around it was all based on carbon.

Niaz: Now we are learning how to make a living world which was not possible before. We can engineer our nature to sustain our need. What is the interface between programming and biology? How does computer science relate to the genetic code?

Andrew: Computer programming is relatively easy. Engineers made the processors. Engineers created the languages and compilers. Because we’ve made everything, we know everything about how these things work. The specifications are known.

Cells are essentially living computers. Genetic engineering is software engineering. The challenge is that we didn’t create the cell or the programming language. We don’t understand fully how everything works yet. This limits the sophistication of the programs we can write. But we’re learning more every day. As our knowledge grows, so do our capabilities.

Synthetic biology is still very young compared to electronic computing. Human-readable programming languages are just starting to appear. DNA synthesis, which compiles this code into an executable form, is still expensive. But as the computer design tools improve and DNA synthesis costs fall, programming living cells and organisms gets easier to do, faster to do, and a lot cheaper. This opens up biotechnology for more people, just as the PC brought computing to the masses so will computing transform healthcare.

Niaz: Tell us about programming our genes? Would it be possible for our genetic codes to be published on the web and open sourced by ‘gene programmers’ for example?

Andrew: Absolutely. A lot of genetic code is already published openly – and more of it is flooding into databases daily. This includes data on individuals. For example, I’m part of a project called the PGP – Personal Genome Project, where participants willingly publish their genomes for open research.

We’re already seeing dozens of small biotech companies using next-generation DNA technologies – companies like Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston, which engineers custom microbes, or San Francisco’s Glowing Plant, Inc. I expect many more companies to appear. Bioengineering and biological programming are already hot jobs – and I believe there will be a lot more positions to fill in the future.

Niaz: What are the possibilities of biotechnology? How it will change the world and how it affects to find the new ways to achieve success?

Andrew: The possibilities are staggering. Consider the range of existing organisms. Every environmental niche is populated. There are millions of large species on our planet, and possibly billions of microbial and viral species. This is just what’s here today, now, or at least what we know about.

Biotechnology greatly expands the range of possibilities. There’s no species barrier at the code level, so we can mix and match traits from species that otherwise could not share genetic code easily. We can also create new environments and direct evolutionary processes to produce novel traits. We can print cells using 3D printers. We can connect cells or cell components to electrical devices, creating bridges that never existed before – possibly leading to new sensors or electronically-controlled metabolic processes.

These approaches are unfamiliar to people today. But fifty years ago, so were computers and robotics. Over the coming decades, the fundamental processes of living systems will be better understood, and biology will become more accepted as an everyday technology. I think this is a positive thing for humanity and for our planet.

Niaz: How long until genome sequencing becomes available on an iPhone?

Andrew: Prototype devices are already about the size of an iPhone. But having this feature on a phone isn’t what people are asking for today. When there’s enough demand and the technology is cheap enough, it will happen.

Niaz: As you know, Robots are starting to emerge in sequencing labs. To what extent can this field be roboticized?

Andrew: DNA sequencing has been increasingly automated since the late 1990’s. The robots are already doing much of the work, even the sample preparation.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about synthetic biology?

Andrew: It’s computer-aided genetic engineering –programming living things using software and hardware tools. I like to think of it as the next IT industry. It’s already beginning to happen. For example, the iGEM Synthetic Biology program (http://igem.org) has already trained tens of thousands of students. Kids today grow up digital. Increasingly, they’ll grow up biotechnological, comfortable and adept with the tools to engineer biological systems.

Niaz: What will be the first mainstream application to be introduced that is dependent on synthetic biology?

Andrew: By mainstream, I take it you mean some form of branded consumer application, since some engineered products are already incorporated into many common products. An example is modified enzymes or oils in laundry detergents and soaps, and also biofuels.

For people to actively seek out a synthetic biology product in large numbers, it will need to be something fun and/or useful, affordable, and above all safe. I think there’s a good chance it will be a food or drink – probably one based on yeast, since post-processing can eliminate any genetically modified yeast from the product. I’m tracking projects in beer and milk that have a high potential to go mainstream.

Niaz: When will the first human organs be created using synthetic biology?

Andrew: This is more a challenge for the cell biologists. 3D bio-printing technologies are very exciting right now. Prototype tissues and organs are starting to appear, but the capabilities are still very limited. These will improve but the rate of improvement is at present hard to estimate – there are too few data points. That said, I think the first bio-printed human heart will be transplanted in less than a decade.

Another approach is to engineer humanized animals. There are almost a billion pigs in the world. If their organs were engineered to be immune-compatible with humans, almost overnight there would be no shortage of organs for transplant.

Given enough research and development, I expect we might learn how to activate self-repair or self-replacement of our organs so transplants won’t be necessary. But this is still in the realm of science fiction for now.

Niaz: How much progress can be expected in the field of synthetic biology by 2025?

Andrew: It will grow exponentially or super-exponentially as DNA synthesis and other biotechnologies advance. You can bank on it, like Moore’s law.

Niaz: You are the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer. Can you tell us more about Pink Army Cooperative, its initiatives and upcoming activities?

 Andrew: I started Pink Army in 2009 to make people aware that the rapid advances in biotechnology are allowing smaller innovators to compete effectively with big pharmaceutical companies. As a cooperative, it’s an open source company owned by the members and capitalized by the membership fees. After getting about 600 members, I stopped focusing on awareness and started working to create the digital tools for making synthetic cancer-fighting viruses very inexpensively. Meanwhile, viral therapies are beginning to have success in treating some cancers, in some cases completely eliminating them with a single treatment. I expect to do much more with the cooperative in the next year or so.

Niaz: You are a Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk and the former co-chair of bioinformatics and biotechnology at Singularity University. How has your experience with Autodesk and Singularity University affected your vision for biotech and Pink Army?

Andrew: Definitively. Singularity University allowed me to connect with other innovators around the world, including Autodesk. Since 2012, the team at Autodesk has been working to create innovative design tools and industry partnerships that will make biotechnology easier and yet more powerful. In short, Autodesk is building the tools that make Pink Army and other advanced biotechnology companies possible. And just a few months ago, we made our first synthetic virus, a bacteriophage called PhiX174. This was a first step toward one day producing cancer-fighting viruses.

Niaz: More people are now getting into biotech, nanotech, genetic engineering and genomics. What do you think about the important factors of the success in these industries?

Andrew: I think they are similar to other industries. If these technologies are used to create useful products and services that people are willing to pay for, the companies will be successful. Improvements in these technologies are reducing costs and risks of development, but these industries still face a more complicated path to the marketplace with their products than, say, the computer industry, at least in the US and UK. This could be a big opportunity for emerging markets in the short term. Eventually, I believe efforts the regulatory and approval processes must be streamlined.

Niaz: Why do we need to think really big as well as to be high ambitious in the filed of biotech, nanotech, genetic engineering and genomics? How to stay motivated to build the next big things from these domains?

Andrew: These are powerful technologies that can address global challenges but there is always the risk of accident or abuse. We must be open and transparent about what we are doing with these technologies and we must pursue positive applications. We need to train people to be responsible and safe in their practices. We must also update and empower the regulatory organizations to do their jobs properly.

Niaz: How big is life science industry? How is life science going to be evolving in near future? Do you think we are about to live like science fiction?

Andrew: I don’t have an exact figure dollar-wise, but collectively, including medicine, it’s in the trillions of dollars. Life science will only become more robust. I don’t think we’re going to live like in science fiction, just better because of what these technologies can deliver to people.

Niaz: What does excite you most now?

Andrew: How quickly things are changing. Opportunities abound for anyone that is interested in these areas.

Niaz: Is there anything else you would like for readers of eTalks to know about your work?

Andrew: I would just like people to explore this space for themselves. If my work gets them curious or inspired, that’s great.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Andrew: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

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Further Reading:

1. Aubrey de Grey on Aging and Overcoming Death

2. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

3. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

4. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

5. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

6. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

7. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

8. Brian Keegan on Big Data

9. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Jon Nathanson: Apple, Disruption, Fire Phone and Content Business

Jon nathanson is a technology and business columnist for Slate. He is also an angel investor and a strategy consultant in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The following is an interview with Jon Nathanson about Disruptive Innovation, Apple, Amazon’s Fire Phone, Disrupting Hollywood and Future of Content Business. The interview has been edited for brevity:

Niaz: Dear Jon, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jon: Thanks for having me! It’s a pleasure and an honor.

Niaz: You are a technology columnist, startup investor, and strategy consultant in San Francisco and Los Angeles. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about yourself, your works, and current involvements?

Jon: It sounds so corny, right? “Technology columnist, startup investor, and strategy consultant.” Those are some of the things I do every week—but put them together like that, and they don’t amount to a coherent job description. Unfortunately, I’m the one who put them together that way, when I was asked by Slate to give a tagline for my column, “The Bet.”

But let’s unpack the list. I’m a columnist for Slate, and that’s a fairly recent turn of events. I’ve been writing my whole life. I doubt anyone will give me credit for it, but I was the editor-in-chief of my high school paper, which won numerous national awards and was consistently ranked at the top of the nation…for a high-school paper. For whatever that’s worth. (Probably not much.) That was, sadly, the beginning and the pinnacle of my un-storied career in journalism. After graduation, I packed up my proverbial press pass and moved on with my life. But it still called to me. I successfully ignored that call for the first decade of my professional life.

That was up until early last year, when I realized I’d been wasting an unseemly amount of time commenting on Hacker News every day, and I came across a listing on HN for Priceonomics. Priceonomics is a Y Combinator company that started a blog initially as a content marketing effort, but who came to specialize in writing top-quality blog posts. They became so good at it, in fact, that they were regularly charting to the front page of HN, and I was regularly reading their stuff. I saw they were looking for writers, and I applied that instant. Through my work with Priceonomics, I started getting attention from other journalists and media outlets, and I was invited onto NPR a few times. It was very quick and very surreal. Next thing I knew, I had an agent, and soon after that, the gig with Slate. It was one of those cases, as they say, where my “overnight” success was the result of 20 years of preparation. When I was invited up to the big leagues, I’d been practicing my swing for decades. (So you’d think I’d be better at writing job descriptions for myself…)

As for the investing and consulting—those, too, are fairly recent ventures a long time in the making. I’ve been informally advising friends’ startups for years now. And in 2013 I started putting my money where my mouth is, investing at the seed stage in several companies I knew well and believed had a serious shot at success. It’s funny how the angel community works. You invest in a few companies, and next thing you know, more companies and more opportunities are coming your way, all because the founders and co-investors you’ve gone in with are friendly with others. And platforms like AngelList have made the process even more social. Next thing I knew, I was investing or advising enough startups—and devoting a scary amount of my workweek to doing so—that I felt justified in taking a step back, evaluating it, and calling it a significant part-time job. Investing and consulting had earned their fair place on my motley tagline.

Niaz: I would like to start our interview discussing about disruptive innovation. The last few weeks were pretty interesting and there was much discussion for and against disruptive innovation. Jill Lepore, a Harvard professor, has written an extraordinary piece on The New Yorker where she cited disruptive innovation as a myth. Even the father of disruptive innovation, Professor Clayton Christensen, now thinks disruption has become a cliché. You have seen how disrupt, disruptive, disruption and some other buzzword around disruptive innovation have become a common phenomenon in the tech industry. Can you please tell us what do you think about disruptive innovation? How a buzzword or myth or cliché like disruptive innovation is changing the world revolutionary? Or there is something else [like mindset] behind the scene, which is the original reinforcement of these revolutionary changes?

Jon: First of all, I think it’s intellectually—and, dare I say, emotionally—consistent to appreciate Jill Lepore’s article and to maintain a healthy respect for Christensen’s thesis. People will say that Lepore has chipped away at the very foundations of Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation. I don’t necessarily agree. The analogy I’d use is that she’s shone a very bright light on it. She’s walked down into the basement of the building, and she’s lit a floodlight on everything there, exposing the cracks, the structural weaknesses, and the clutter. But the building itself is still (mostly) sound.

It helps to frame Christensen’s original thesis in context of the intellectual climate of his day. “Disruptive innovation,” as Christensen originally charted it out, was a theory of market competition that sought to expand upon the work of Michael Porter and his “Five Forces” framework. Porter argued that there are five major forces in play in any given market: competitive intensity between existing players; suppliers’ bargaining power; buyers’ bargaining power; the threat of substitute products or services; and the threat of new entrants into the marketplace. Christensen, to put it in physics-geek terms, sought to unify two of the five forces: the threat of new entrants, and the threat of substitution.

“Disruptive innovation” occurs, in Christense’s framework, when less-than-perfect substitutes arise for existing products, capitalizing on benefits (in solution, in cost, or in feature set) that the current players in the market either don’t think are important, or think are inferior. Christensen argued that new entrants—startups, as we now call them—are usually the bearers of the substitute products, because they have no legacy supply chains, cost structures, or customer requirements to satisfy. And he argued, in a Schumpeterian sense, that these new entrants would usually, or even inevitably, “disrupt” the existing market and unseat the established players.

Lepore’s research disputes the second of those premises, but not the first. She showed that new entrants tend not to survive the shakeup. Their function is usually catalytic. They enter a market, stir the pot, and get acquired or driven out by the legacy players once the legacy players catch up. But shakeups can and do happen, and they often play out in the dynamic that Christensen outlined in The Innovator’s Dilemma.

So it appears that Christensen was largely right about the dynamics of disruption, but less right about the outcome of disruption, or about the inevitability of its winners and losers. He raised valid and provocative ideas. But his project for the unification of two forces—new entrants and substitution—was not entirely successful.

That said, I’d still recommend The Innovator’s Dilemma as mandatory reading in any core business school curriculum or strategy class. Readers should simply place it in context. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was foundational in outlining the theory of evolution by natural selection—but it’s a very old text these days, and it got some things wrong, and others have come along and corrected or expanded upon them. Those corrections, and those amendments, do not invalidate the importance of Charles Darwin to the field of evolutionary biology. Similarly, modern challenges and updates to Christensen’s work don’t necessarily invalidate the significance of his work.

This isn’t a baby we should throw out with the bathwater. As for the cult of “disruption” that has sprung up around Christensen’s work over the last few decades: that’s a different story. Disruption, in and of itself, shouldn’t be the driving goal of any given startup. Innovation is the goal. Disruption is the means to the end. And not all kinds of innovation are necessarily “disruptive.” Even the big kinds.

If founders and thinkers take away one thing from Lepore’s challenge to Christensen’s work, it should be that disruptive innovation is a theory. It is not the only theory people need to know, and it is neither universally applicable nor wholly actionable. The innovator’s Dilemma deserves a place on you bookshelf, but it shouldn’t be the only book there.

Niaz: Folks have long been waiting for the disruption of Hollywood. But Hollywood has been out of touch from the massive disruption for years. You have an interesting column on Slate, Why Hollywood Resists Disruption, where you compare the likeness of Hollywood to the Roman Empire, particularly that the Roman Empire did not actually fall but instead divided and dispersed. Can you please briefly tell us about Why Hollywood Resists Disruption? Do you feel your opinion is influenced by your experience at NBC and 20th Century Fox? What will be the outcome of massive disruption of Hollywood?

Jon: The analogy to the Roman Empire was a colorful and nerdy one, no doubt spurred by my inability, after all these years, to stop playing Rome: Total War or watching movies like Gladiator. But the analogy is this: Rome was a remarkably adaptable political organism. It was constantly shifting its boundaries, incorporating its former enemies, and bringing them into the fold. By the end of the Empire, Rome was so thoroughly, demographically changed that a “barbarian” of Germanic bloodline was leading its army against Germanic barbarians at its gates. Hollywood is similar in that respect: companies like Netflix have disrupted and shifted the borderlands, so to speak. Distribution of movies and TV shows and music is wildly different now, and none of it to Hollywood’s real benefit. But Hollywood has maintained control over talent, over means of production, over storymaking-to-filmmaking process—and has maintained an indispensable role in the process of creating and distributing entertainment to the masses. More and more people get their shows through Netflix, but Netflix’s shows are still made by Hollywood studios and Hollywood production companies, at Hollywood prices.

Here’s where things will get interesting: Hollywood owns very few of the the “last miles” in any of its consumer pipelines right now. Movie studios don’t own the major theater chains, at least in this country. They don’t own the customer relationships at iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, or XBox Live. TV networks still have a direct pipeline to viewers, but that pipeline is eroding or obscuring—fewer and fewer people watch their network programming on the networks themselves, at the appointed days, dates, and times.

And so Hollywood is at a crossroads. Should it abandon the fight for last-mile distribution, and focus entirely on creating and licensing content? If so, a lot of very big, very consolidated media companies are going to need to do some major restructuring. Should it keep up the fight for relevance in distribution? If so, studios or production companies will need to build a credible alternative to Netflix, iTunes, etc. HBO Go is a very interesting example, and I think its success will be a bellwether for the next few years. Already we’re seeing just about every network under the sun releasing its own “HBO Go” app. And consumers seem to be fine with that—an app for every network. But they’ll be fine with it up to a point. A future in which every network has its own app necessarily means that every consumer needs to keep track of which shows belong to which networks, and can be found on which apps. That’s a high cognitive load to bear, and it’s a consumer-unfriendly burden to impose. Consumers love convenience, and Netflix is very convenient. I don’t think an ecosystem of 20 different HBO Go-alikes is a viable, consumer-preferred alternative to Netflix. But maybe a handful of apps are. Apps differentiated by genre. Or subscription streams based on dynamics the major players aren’t thinking about today, like group subscriptions, or customizable subscriptions for only the shows you want, and not the stuff you don’t want.

I spent many years in Hollywood, working on primetime shows at NBC, Fox, and elsewhere. I think my time there gave me a deep appreciation for just how hard it will be to disrupt Hollywood, and at the same time, just how much disruption probably should take place. It’s a paradox, and to circle back to your earlier question, I wonder whether Christensen’s framework gives us any guidance as to how this will play out. Christensen’s work might argue that YouTube and Vine are changing the nature of entertainment content, and that inevitably, full-length, TV-style shows will fall to the wayside. And yet that’s not entirely true. Teenagers are probably watching YouTube and Vine to the exclusion of more and more TV-style programming. And yet, uber-premium TV programming like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are more relevant than ever before. Perhaps the middle is falling out this time, and we’ll live in a world with supergood content and superdisposable content. Nothing in between.

Niaz: You’ve spent a lot of time in the content business. We are now living in an exciting era of content creation, curation and distribution, where there is a popular belief that ‘content is king’. From hardcore tech companies to venture capital firms to social media companies to marketing companies to media companies …. everyone is actually into content business. Does that mean if you not doing content, you’re missing something really big?

Jon: “Content marketing” is having a moment right now. Everyone feels that adding something substantial to the conversation is necessary to winning business and maintaining credibility in whatever industry they happen to play in. Witness companies like Google Ventures, who are creating libraries of advice, content, etc., to their arsenals in an attempt to become better full-service providers to portfolio companies. Or companies like Priceonomics, whom I mentioned earlier—research companies that regularly publish accessible, in-depth, top-quality articles for anyone to read, regardless of whether they’ll be users of Priceonomics’s core services.

Some companies will get content marketing right, and many will embarrass themselves. The ones who’ll get it right will realize it’s a full-time task. It’s more than a full-time task. It’s a way of thinking. It’s an editorial sensibility. The folks at Priceonomics spend as much time writing, editing, and investing in their blog as they do their data-analytics services. If Google Ventures is going to fulfill its very exciting ambitions in the content space, it’s going to need to elevate content to the forefront of what it does, right alongside investing.

Content can be king, but if it’s going to be king for you, then you need to treat it like royalty. Take it as seriously as anything else. Don’t half-ass it. Bad content marketing is blatantly obvious to all who come across it, and it’ll actually hurt your company. Great content will do wonders for your company. But you’re going to need to commit to it and commit fully. If your company wants to do content marketing, then everyone at your company should be prepared to chip in every week. Including your CEO. Making world-class content takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort, and the bar for world-class will be raised in the years to come.

Niaz: You’re the co-author of a Harvard Business School case study on Netflix and its use of collaborative filtering technology to disrupt traditional models of consumer discovery and consumption of entertainment.With the massive entrance and existence of Google, Apple, and Amazon into content business, how do you think that will affect the future of Netflix?

Jon: To understand Netflix’s situation right now, it helps to understand HBO’s situation 15-20 years ago. HBO—the acronym stands for “Home Box Office”—started out licensing and replaying movies. That’s it. It was a distributor of movies shortly after their theatrical release, and before their home video release. And that was a brilliant business model in the days when windowing mattered a great deal, and there were few other ways to see movies after they’d left theaters. But HBO had to adapt as the years went by. Other networks popped up with similar business models. The DVD player came along and revitalized the home video market. The internet was starting to provide rough, but credible means for getting one’s hands on movies. Local TV stations were getting more aggressive about licensing first-run movies. And so HBO needed to create original content. It started with documentaries, then moved up the value chain to original, scripted series. And it focused a hell of a lot of money, time, and effort to ensure that it’s series were great. HBO’s executives in the early 1990s would hardly recognize the HBO of today, and vice versa. Today’s HBO is best described as a premium TV-show network, and not a premium movie-licensing network.

Netflix is in a similar situation. It got to where it is today by being the most convenient, optimized, consumer-friendly way to watch movies and TV shows. But networks and studios realized that Netflix was a threat to their business model, and they started threatening Netflix with higher licensing fees. Some pulled their content altogether. And so Netflix faced a choice: fight tooth and nail to be a commodity provider of everyone else’s content, or start developing exclusive, original content of its own. And it’s started to diversify its mix with the latter. The problem is, now Netflix is in the hit-driven business of TV development. It might spend $100 million on a show that flops. Or it might spend $100 million on a show that temporarily drives subscriptions and maintains customer loyalty, but whose run expires in a few years. Meanwhile, it’s still spending close to a billion dollars a year licensing everyone else’s content. Netflix’s operating costs are going to skyrocket in the years to come. At the same time, Netflix is still the most convenient and ubiquitous way for many, many people to get the shows they want to see.

Apple doesn’t seem to have the taste for developing original shows, nor do most analysts think it should. I’d probably agree (for now). Amazon has the muscle and the clout to compete with Netflix, but its efforts in the originals-development space have been lackluster to date. Friends within and without the company tell me it’s not taking development as seriously as it could. But that doesn’t mean it can’t, or that it won’t. Google is a very interesting dark horse. It owns the “low end” with YouTube, and that low-end will be very lucrative. Meanwhile, it’s building out its own infrastructure with Fiber, and its own platforms with Chrome and Android. All it needs to do now is shell out the cash on originals and on premium licenses—but we’d be talking hundreds of millions, and possibly even billions, to outcompete Netflix with Hollywood-quality programming. To date, Google hasn’t really shown the desire or the capacity to do that. It’s had a lot of false starts inking expensive deals with celebrities, writers, and producers—but very little has come of that. As I mentioned earlier, content is an all-or-nothing proposition. You’re going big or you’re going home. Google can go big, but it needs to go quite big, and I think it’s been a little scared of just how big “big” really is.

Niaz: I believe Apple’s purchase of Beats is a pretty big deal when we consider the integration of culture and creativity. We have seen both culture and creativity are at the heart of Apple’s whole ecosystem. At the same time, Beats will give Apple access to a different customer segment that is pretty huge not only for music but also for healthcare. I am excited to see some integration of Beats Headphone with Apple’s healthcare in near future. On the other hand, executives like Jimmy Lovine and Dr. Dre, will make Apple’s path a lot easier to play big game in content business. Can you please tell us about your ideas and takes on Apple’s purchase of Beats? What new innovations do you expect to see from the integration of both Beat and Apple’s ecosystem?

Jon: I wrote a bit about Apple and Beats in Slate recently, and the long and short of it is this: I think it was a smart buy. Apple needed a streaming service; it needed to diversify its customer base; it needed to establish credibility in the creative community and in Hollywood to place itself on competitive footing with Amazon and its other competitors, real or putative. And it gets some high-margin, bestselling hardware as part of the package. The icing on the cake is that Apple was sitting on a literal mountain of cash, partly because there are almost no great ways to get a respectable return on cash right now in any market. So this was a good, productive use of free cash.

How will Iovine and Dre get involved? A lot of people are speculating that they’ll start a sort of mini-studio within Apple, commissioning original content. That has never really been a focus of Apple’s, but it would be very interesting to see. The thing is, everyone needs originals right now. Everyone needs exclusives. Apple’s strategy, to date, has been to let its platform (iOS) be the soil in which developers plant and nurture the seeds. And I believe Apple will still operate a content business from that worldview. You won’t see Apple producing its own shows, but you may well see Apple shelling out serious money for exclusive distribution windows, or for first-look deals, or maybe even for first-run programming. But other people will make those shows for Apple. Apple won’t make them itself.

Niaz: Let’s talk about WWDC. Apple has announced iOS8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite in WWDC 2014 in addition to some other major updates. With all these great new updates, it seems inevitable that they will be accompanied by larger screens on the iPhone, iWatch, and probably Apple TV later this year. What has fascinated me most is that Tim Cook has been able to transform Apple and make it his own in such a short amount of time. It seems like Apple is ready to kick start again with remarkable products and services. I have seen some hints of new product from Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, at Code conference. What are you takes on WWDC? What do you think about all these new updates?

Jon: I was very excited by WWDC, and I would echo a lot of the sentiments coming out of the Apple blogosphere. I am very excited by the expansive platform potential of iOS. It could well become Apple’s Windows, ironically enough: a ubiquitous operating system that is embedded into, plays with, or powers everyone else’s hardware. The difference between the Windows era and the iOS era, of course, is that Apple is a hardware company—so any distributed ecosystem involving iOS would, by necessity, mean every other device merely uses iOS, but you’ll need Apple devices to control them all. Apple devices will be the hub, and everyone else will be a spoke.

Niaz: With the release of latest iPhone 5C, entrance in a new market, new openings of Apple stores globally, and overall performance in China and Japan, it seems like Apple is going truly global with massive scale. What do you think the future holds for Apple, a company with $600 billion market cap, $45.6 billion in quarterly revenue, and a 39.3 percent gross margin? Should they focus on becoming dominant in entertainment and communication or expand their products and services to other things?  And how will Apple’s competitors compete with this massive scale of product, service, content, and global distribution?

Jon: I mentioned how Apple envisions a future in which it’s the hub, and everyone else is a spoke. Well, that future is by no means assured. Google is putting up very credible competition. Apple is selling a remarkable number of devices in markets like China, and nominally speaking, it’s growing. But worldwide, its rate of growth might be slowing. So the question will soon become: how does Apple transition from its current growth model—putting an iDevice into everyone’s hands—toward a more mature growth model, capturing the value from all those iDevices in all those hands? Sooner or later, there will be a limit to how many device refreshes consumers will tolerate at Apple’s margins. That’s why Apple is getting increasingly serious about iOS as a platform, to ensure the continued necessity of iDevice refreshes.

It’s somewhat fashionable, once again, to look toward a future of slowed, or at least less explosive iDevice sales growth, and predict doom and gloom for Apple. I think that’s a simplistic view. Apple isn’t going anywhere. But it’s in transition. Apple is maturing as a company, and its mature business model is going to look more steady, more stable, and less notionally explosive than its model has over the last decade. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; it’s the aftereffect of so much success for so long. Apple has planted the world’s lushest orchard; now it’s got to make something of the fruit.

Niaz: As you know, the smartphone industry has been facing fierce head to head competition, and now Amazon is entering the ring with the release of Fire Phone. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Chief Executive, asserts, ‘I think in the whole evolution of this [smartphone], we’re still pretty early’. Do you agree that Amazon’s arrival in the smartphone industry is pretty early when we have started imaging a world without any device like a smartphone? What is your overall evaluation on Amazon’s Fire Phone? How do you feel about its exclusivity with AT&T? Is it going to be huge? What further steps should Amazon take to compete with other smartphones?

 Jon: It’s important to place the Fire Phone not just in the context of the smartphone market, but also in the context of Amazon’s corporate strategy.

Let’s think back to the tail end of the last decade and the beginning of this one. Amazon is the king of ecommerce. It’s the world’s largest bookseller, and it’s a credible force—if not necessarily an undisputed leader—in movies, video games, music, and other entertainment categories. Along comes Apple with iOS, and eventually the iPad. Suddenly, Amazon is facing a serious threat to its book and entertainment businesses. So it releases the Kindle, a purpose-built book reader. It turns out that no one’s satisfied with a purpose-built book reader. A book reader is insufficient to compete with more feature-complete hardware like the iPad (and the emerging Android device ecosystem). So Amazon releases the Kindle Fire, a full-featured device. But that’s not enough. Amazon feels it needs a full mobile hardware platform. Hence, the Fire Phone.

There are some problems here, not the least of which is that nobody has been able to crack the Apple/Google stranglehold on the mobile device market in a serious way. Fire Phone, like the Fire tablet, might wind up a day late and a dollar short. At the same time, Amazon needs to do something. The future of books, games, movies, TV, and music is probably streaming or subscription services, and that’s all going to happen outside of Amazon—on other people’s apps and on other people’s devices—unless Amazon figures out a way to own the point-of-purchase customer relationship. So it’s trying to do that with hardware. I’m not sure that’s necessary; I think Amazon could do just as well positioning itself as the premiere shopping, streaming, and media consumption app on everyone else’s devices. But the present-day competitive landscape makes that very hard to do. Every hardware platform wants to own the point-of-purchase for content, too.

Jeff Bezos is probably the smartest CEO in the entire country, and high in the running for smartest in the world. He’s the most brilliant retail mind since Sam Walton. He may be the best pure businessperson of our generation. If anyone can figure out a way to crack this space, he can. But if he’s serious about hardware, he’ll need to figure out how to add something new and exciting to his hardware. Something exclusive. Retail is all about price, selection, and convenience. Hardware is still very much about razzle-dazzle. Amazon has never been a razzle-dazzle company. Amazon released the Kindle because it needed a reader. Amazon released the Fire because it needed a full-featured tablet. It can’t just release a phone because it needs a phone. Consumers need more than that.

But I agree with Bezos’s assertion that the smartphone market is still in its infancy. The best is yet to come. But Amazon will need to deliver the best—stuff we’ve not even thought of yet—if it’s going to make a serious bid for a place at the table.

Niaz: What do you think about the Future of Social Media? How things are going to evolve with Facebook and Twitter? We have text (Twitter), photos (Instagram), videos (Vine), and the combination (Facebook); what’s the next platform for social media? Should we expect additions to social media or the simplification/streamlining of it?

 Jon: Two major, semi-competing forces are going to shape social media in the next few years. The first is unbundling. Facebook, Twitter, and other players are going to put out, or buy, dozens of single-purpose apps and networks in an attempt to occupy as much real estate on your home screen as they can. Because they know your attention span is limited, and that the home screen is all-important. The second force is what I’ll call app fatigue, or perhaps more accurately, marginal app utility. There comes a point where people have more apps than they know what to do with, and hence, apps that get relegated outside the home screen are going to fall by the wayside. This creates a countervailing pressure to make your core app as relevant as possible, so that it maintains its place in the user’s daily mindset, and occupies the Fifth Avenue real estate that is the home screen, or better yet, the dock.

A lot of people mocked Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, but Facebook is keenly aware that Instagram and WhatsApp are home screen apps for hundreds of millions of people. That’s why it hasn’t shut those apps down and integrated them into the Facebook app. Instagram is probably the single most important app to most young people’s lives, and Facebook would have been crazy to kill it or marginalize it. It will go down in recent history as the smartest acquisition Facebook has ever made, and the decision to keep it quasi-independent was a very smart move.

Niaz: As you have seen there are hundreds of sites, apps and platforms dedicate to content curation. What do you think about content curation? Are we going to have some kind of social media that’s exclusively dedicated to curation?

 Jon: Curation is increasingly necessary in a world with more content than we know what to do with. How do I sort through the pile? How do I find things I’ll like? As an app developer, how in the heck do I get my app in front of the people who’ll like it? Let me tell you: we haven’t even begun to see the future of curation. It’s an important one. Apps, content, and entertainment will be curated through all manner of interesting means: tailored or self-tailored subscriptions, influencers, collaborative filtering methods and other algorithms, tastemakers, lists, and category-centric curation apps.

If someone can become the Google search of the app world, or the Netflix of the app world, or even the New York Times book review of the app world, these are very valuable and very lucrative things to become.

Niaz: What do you think about Silicon Valley? Is it a mindset or something very special? Do you foresee Silicon Valley expanding or rather replicating in other areas around the world/country?

 Jon: Silicon Valley has succeeded because it’s Silicon Valley. That sounds tautological and circular. But it’s important to understand what makes Silicon Valley work if we’re to understand how other locations—or, as I think is more likely, how a more global, distributed system—can replicate it. Silicon Valley has several of the world’s leading technical universities situated in its back yard. It has received decades of investment and government support. It has an unprecedented concentration of risk-seeking capital. It has a feedback loop of successful founders and funders, each of whom plows money, connections, and expertise back into the system. And it has a big tolerance for exploration, for failure, and for dangerously innovative thinking.

Now, none of those things in isolation is sufficient to replicate the whole. But some of those things came from the others. A playbook for replicating Silicon Valley should start with capital, government support (but not government prescription), and top-tier university research and cooperation. In fact, I think it’s virtually impossible to recreate Silicon Valley in a single location in the absence of a world-class technical university. This is why you see the new Silicon Valleys—the ones that actually have a shot at replicating the entire SV ecosystem—springing up in fertile soil that has all the right characteristics, including strong academic systems. Places like Israel, for instance.

But in some cases, I think the race to rebuild, replace, or create anew Silicon Valley is a half-step. The new Silicon Valley will be a distributed ecosystem, powered by services like AngelList and FundersClub, in cooperation with universities and institutions, with distributed access to talent, capital, and mentors. Conventional wisdom holds that you need to concentrate all of these things in one place. I’d say that’s still nominally true, but it can be done virtually. What Amazon Web Services was to the server, so will distributed access be to geographic and physical concentration of the necessary resources.

Niaz: Any last comment?

 Jon: As a content person, and as an entertainment person, I’m always on the lookout for people trying new and exciting things in these spaces. I have no desire to “disrupt” Hollywood, but I have a strong desire to shake it up a little, and to direct its energies toward more forward-thinking and customer-centric means of creation and distribution. I’m always happy to chat with entrepreneurs in any space, but in particular, I’d love to talk to anyone and everyone thinking about this space. Feel free to hit me up anytime on Twitter (@jonnathanson) or via email (jonfnathanson @ gmail.com)

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing with us your great ideas, insights, and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

 Jon: Thanks so much for having me! I am a big fan of your interviews, and I am honored to have talked with you.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

2. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

3. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

6. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

7. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

8. Brian Keegan on Big Data

9. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

David Heinemeier Hansson: Basecamp, Remote and Next Big Thing

Do you know what Twitter, Groupon, and Shopify have in common – Ruby on Rails. It’s a game changer in the way web-base applications are made for developers. It’s also happens to be a by-product when David Heinemeier Hansson was building Basecamp (which is also a by-product). He is a founding partner at 37signals (now Basecamp), a NYT best-selling author, a race car driver (more here), coder, hacker, photographer (more here) and a big advocate on working lean, efficient, and remotely.

David is one of the most influential voices on the Internet. He is the author of the immensely popular Ruby on Rails programming framework, is a noted blogger and media figure and is elegantly opinionated when it comes to the best ways to make great software. People follow David’s lead in droves, and for good reason: as a partner in the multi-million dollar company 37signals, David is one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in today’s Web economy. Creators of Basecamp®, Campfire™, Highrise® and Backpack®, and authors of the widely read ‘Signal vs. Noise‘ blog, 37signals is an advocate for all things simple and beautiful.

In 2005 he was recognized by Google and O’Reilly with the Hacker of the Year award for his creation of Ruby on Rails. After graduating from the Copenhagen Business School and receiving his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Business Administration, he moved from Denmark to Chicago, Illinois, U. S. in November 2005. David appeared on the cover of the July 2006 issue of Linux Journal which included an interview with him in the feature story ‘Opinions on Opinionated Software’. The same month Business 2.0 ranked him 34th among ’50 people who matter now’.

The following is an interview with David Heinemeier Hansson about Basecamp, Remote and the Next Big Thing. The interview has been edited for brevity:

Niaz: Dear David, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

First of all, I congratulate you and whole 37Signals team on redefining, rebuilding and rebirthing 37Signals to Basecamp. It is really a fascinating move. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us the story of transforming 37Signals to Basecamp? How is Basecamp going to evolve in the coming years?

DHH: Basecamp just celebrated its 10th year. It was the application that turned 37signals-the-web-design-firm into 37signals-the-application-maker. But up until its 10th birthday, it shared its attention with a suite of other products at 37signals. What we came to realize was that Basecamp was our best idea. It always was, but it’s just become clearer and clearer over the past decade, until we couldn’t ignore the truth any more. So instead of spreading ourselves too thin, or growing into a much larger company, we decided to double down and go all Basecamp, all the time.  That means Basecamp now has our undivided attention. Everyone at the company is working on making Basecamp better all the time. It’s liberating and it’s exciting. We’ve been on a quest to conquer mobile, and we already have great apps out for the iPhone and Android, so that’s been part of it. Basecamp should be with you wherever you are and whatever device you’re using.  We’re also working on a lot of fundamental improvements. We don’t just want Basecamp to get more and more features, but we want it to execute on the fundamentals even more beautifully. So that’s the mission: Help people make progress on projects together.

Niaz: Now we are living in an exciting era of superb technologies. All these cutting edge technologies are accelerating the overall productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. Now it doesn’t matter where is someone working from. A great company can have total 15 employees from 15 different countries and can make great things happen working remote. Some companies like Aetna, 37Signals and so on allow their employees to work from home. But some companies like Yahoo! and Best Buy are forcing their employees to work at the office. What are ideas on working remote?

DHH: We’ve been a remote-working company since I started working with Jason some 13 years ago from Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s in our DNA. Today almost 3/4s of the company is based outside of Chicago, where we do have an office (which comes in handy when we twice a year all meet up). It’s been a wonderful experience.   It’s allowed us to attract the best talent wherever it lives, and usually that place isn’t in Chicago (why would it be, just 5M people in the metro area vs 300M in all of the US, and hundreds of millions more in time zones overlapping enough to make it work). And it’s allowed that talent to design the best lifestyle for them, so we have happier people who stay with the company for much longer than most tech companies can say is the average.  We’re so committed to remote work that we wrote a whole book about it. It’s called REMOTE: Office Not Required, and it gives you all the arguments to make it happen at your own company. After you’ve sold the idea, it then gives you all the tips to make it a success. Along with the launch of the book, we also launched weworkremotely.com as a job board exclusively focused on remote positions.

Niaz: In several interviews and articles, you have cited that a small team can do remarkable things. Even 37Signals has a very small team having being created Backpack, Basecamp, Campfire, Highrise, Ta-da List, Writeboard and published Getting Real, Remote and Rework. In general sense, if you have small team, you actually have limited skills, few ideas and limited human resource. But I agree with you in building small team and doing big things. Can you please tell us how do you guys work at 37Signals with a small team to do all great things?

DHH: Small teams are usually always the ones making big things happen. That’s true whether they’re operating within a small company or not. Even big companies will pick a small team when they really need to have a breakthrough. So we decided to focus the whole company around that idea, which means that there are tons of things we just do not do. We don’t have a dedicated marketing department. We don’t have a big sales force. We make simple software that’s easy to support, so we need a small support team, even though we’ve had millions of people use the software.  Simplicity is a choice, and it’s one we’re proud to make. Most people I talk to who work at a large company reminisce about the “good old days when we were just a few people”. We choose to make that the permanent arrangement, and it’s worked out really well.

Niaz: As you know the success rate of StartUps is pretty low.  We see very few StartUps eventually sustain in the long run where most of the StartUps fail so badly. There are so many problems behind the failure of StartUps. On the other hand, the problem with those successful StartUps is that they are not actually sustaining for long time. After several years of running the companies, they are getting sold or getting acquired. This is actually a complex cycle of VCs, Founders and whole StartUp ecosystem. But the end result is, we don’t see sustainable companies to form. What do you think about the core problems of this strong cycle? How can we overcome this for building next big sustainable companies like Apple, Google….?

DHH: The best way to build more sustainable businesses is to forget about Google, Apple, and others. If you only focus on creating billion-dollar businesses, you’re going to drown the many, many more good ideas that could be excellent million-dollar businesses. That’s where the real growth of the economy is going to come from, and is coming from. It’s not from a small handful of slam-dunk success stories, but from the vast ocean of small to medium size businesses.  That’s who we are and we’re happy in our own skin. Many SMBs have inferiority complexes, thinking that they’re a failure because they didn’t get to a billion dollars, because of this incessant focus on that as the only success criteria by many in the business and in journalism. It’s a disease.

Niaz: What does excite you most now?

DHH: I’m excited by the compound success of gradual change and improvement. Rails and Basecamp have both become so much better over the last decade by taking one step at the time. There are few revolutions in this world, and by definition you can’t predict those. But you can predict and extrapolate from consistent, persistent improvement. That’s what excites me.

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Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

4. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

5. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

6. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger on Big Data Revolution

7. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

8. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

Philip Delves Broughton: What they teach you at Harvard?

Editor’s Note: Philip Delves Broughton is the author of The Art of the Sale, published in the UK as Life’s a Pitch, and Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, published outside the US as What They Teach You at Harvard Business School. His first book, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School was a New York Times bestseller and a Financial Times and USA Today business book of the year.

He spent ten years as a reporter and foreign correspondent with The Daily Telegraph newspaper, serving as its New York and Paris bureau chief. He then left journalism to obtain his MBA at Harvard Business School. He has since worked as a writer at Apple Inc. and the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education and as a contributing columnist at The Financial Times. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and The Atlantic.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Philip Delves Broughton recently to gain insights about The Art of the Sale, The Greatest Salespeople in the World, The Soul of the Salesman, What They Teach You at Harvard and The Point of a Business Education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Philip, thank you so much for managing time to join us amidst your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks.

Philip: My pleasure.

Niaz: You are the New York Times best selling author, blogger, business philosopher, speaker and an inspiring mind. Your books ‘The Art of the Sale‘ and ‘What they teach you at Harvard Business School‘ are truly instrumental for self-help, self-growth and for the success in 21st century. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about you, your work and your current involvements?

Philip: I grew up in England, was a newspaper journalist and foreign correspondent for the first ten years of my career, then decided to go to business school at Harvard. Since then, I’ve written and published three books, the memoir of going to HBS, The Art of the Sale, and a book called Management Matters, which is basically a collection of the pieces on management I’ve written for the Financial Times. I write regularly for the FT, the Wall Street Journal and am affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education, a wonderful institution based in Kansas City which funds a wide array of programs designed to stimulate entrepreneurship.

Niaz: Why are you very passionate about ‘Sale’? Can you please tell us what exactly is Sale?

Philip: Sales is very simply the process of turning a product or service into revenue. I’m fascinated by it, because as one great salesman told me, it’s the greatest laboratory there is for understanding human behavior. In sales, we see business at its most raw. We see the truth, lies, greed, decency, ambition and value of any business and business person exposed at the moment of the sale.

Niaz: As you know social media revolution, cutting edge technology, disruptive innovation, widespread uses of smartphone and a whole new digital world have been changing everything. This trend is bringing revolutionary change in the way we do business. Living in such an exciting era, what’s new about sale now in comparison to sale 15-20 years back?

Philip: There’s evidently much more transparency. It’s much harder to deceive customers in a world where so much information about products and pricing is available at a keystroke. Reputation has become far more important as it can so easily be damaged in a world of viral reviews. Transactions have also changed. We can buy and sell in so many different ways these days. Social networks have certainly made prospecting for customers and checking on people’s reputation easier. But I still believe real, lasting relationships require in-person contact over time. Technology hasn’t changed that.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the art and science of selling?

Philip: The science is in creating value around your product and service and then finding ways to convey that value to the right customers. It’s about mapping your product and sales process to their needs and schedules, not your own. The art is in having a supple, imaginative grasp of human behavior. It’s about finding the right balance between science and intuition, because it’s still the case that humans make decisions, and technology, though vastly improved, is still far from being a complete substitute for human intelligence in sales.

Niaz: You have cited, ‘Without a sale, there is no business’. We have seen, most companies fail only because they can’t make enough sale even though some of them are using state of the art technologies, are embracing science and disruptive innovation and despite they have great products. Sometimes customers don’t want the products and most of the time they fail to make sale. As a result the success rate is very little and almost 90% Start Ups fail. Why art and science of selling remain necessary to succeed in most of the human business disciplines? Why is sale the core part of any business?

Philip: Sales is often the last thing many people like to do, because it’s the final judgment on their product or service. It’s a moment of truth. At the moment you sell, you’re risking rejection, which can be painful. Smart, highly educated people in particular aren’t used to rejection, and so try to minimize the risk of it. Sales isn’t forgiving. But if you don’t sell and earn a profit, you’re pursuing a hobby not a business. I often hear people try to make a virtue of their reluctance to sell. They say they’re not aggressive or bullying enough. Or that they don’t like asking people for money. But really, all they are is bad at sales. If you can’t sell yourself, or hire or partner with someone who can, you have no business being in business. It’s not a very complicated concept. The flip side is that people who do push through the rejections and difficulties which precede almost any sale, find their eventual success a great rush which they want to repeat as often as possible. Those people tend to be the ones who succeed in business.

Niaz: Do you think sale is the advanced human game? What are your suggestions on mastering this advanced game?

Philip: I’m not sure how advanced it is, but it can certainly be viewed as a game between consenting adults. There’s an old Quaker tradesman’s saying I cite in the book ‘I shall not cheat thee, but I shall outwit thee.’ I think this is a useful moral code for any salesperson. Ideally, your product, service and price perfectly match a customer’s need and willingness to pay and the sale is easy. But most of the time you’ll need to do some modifying, persuading and course correcting to close a deal. If you lie, you’ll likely end up being exposed. But you can certainly out-think and out-strategize to win, while balancing the short and long-term consequences of your actions. People have very different comfort levels about what they’re willing to do to sell. But good salespeople, however they choose to do it, have thought the compromises and risks and have set firm boundaries on their behavior.

Niaz: What do you think about the salesmanship of Steve Jobs? How has he become one of the greatest salespeople in the world? What are the characteristics, views, ideas, skills and insights of Salesmanship of Steve Jobs that fascinate you?

Philip: Jobs was indistinguishable from his products. He never ceded the role of Apple’s chief salesman to anyone else. That’s a very powerful model and the way he did it inspired enormous belief in his company and products. He used the language of religious evangelism, such as “transformation” and “magic”. He also made brilliant use of persuasive techniques such as “social proof”. All those glass windows in Apple stores allow passers by to see people like themselves using Apple products. The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads similarly made the case that buying Apple products wasn’t just above buying software or hardware. It cut to the very heart of your social identity. It’s rather creepy, actually, but Jobs was brilliant at it. It’s easy to forget what a marginal company Apple was in 1997, when Jobs returned as CEO. His salesmanship helped turn the company around internally by restoring belief among employees, and then got customers to try the products at at time when Wintel was still dominant.

Niaz: Were there some universal qualities you found in great sales people?

Philip: An optimistic frame of mind, enthusiasm, self-discipline, the ability to tell a story and to be energized rather than crushed by rejection. They are terrific listeners, but also ruthless closers. They also tend to be very good company, which made writing about them such fun.

Niaz: Despite the new opportunities in social media, marketing and measurement, selling still frequently comes down to two people looking each other in the eye and deciding how to sell and whether to buy. Business continues to need great salespeople along with all the creativity, tenacity and optimism they bring. Great salespeople come in very different packages. Some are the best at high volume transactional selling and others thrive at building long-term relationships. At this point can you please tell us about the great skills of 21st century salespeople?

Philip: They’re the same as they’ve always been. You need to keep abreast of the prospecting and pitching tools, such as LinkedIn and Salesforce, but ultimately the edge still belongs to those able to build trust, inspire repeat customers and develop healthy books of business. Maybe there’ll be fewer steak and cigar dinners in the 21st century, but you still have to find ways to develop meaningful relationships and that doesn’t happen virtually. Personal networks and interpersonal skills will count as much as ever.

Niaz: What happens when the business and non-business worlds no longer understand each other?

Philip: Revolution.

Niaz: You have had said ‘The cleverest invention or product will disappear — creating no income, no employment — unless someone can sell it.’ Is sale resided in the core of capitalism? How does sales drive economy?

Philip: If all an economy consisted of was things we needed simply to survive, it would look very primitive. No one needs a BMW or a Jamba Juice, or a Macbook or a work of art. But such things make life more appealing. Profit incentives are also essential to the creation of more important things such as new medical treatments or healthier cities. It’s by selling each other new, interesting and life-enhancing, rather than just life-sustaining, that economies grow. Sales leads to revenue leads to profit leads to investment leads to growth.

Niaz: Do you think by creating better understanding of selling, and the many challenges it involves, we can build better world? How can that become possible if I want you to discuss from removing poverty to solving international fights, solving environment problems to stop international war?

Philip: This a long way above my pay grade! All that counts here is that we continue to search for the healthiest balance between market forces and social justice. It’s a constant adjustment for all of us. As individuals, we struggle with our material, emotional and spiritual desires. Companies must balance shareholder with employee interests. Governments seek a way to grow national economies while protecting the weakest in their societies. Sales matters in all this because, as I said, it cuts right to the heart of these discussions. How we choose to sell says everything about how we’re balancing the good and bad in our selves.

Niaz: In 2004, you gave up a career in journalism to attend Harvard Business School. Three years later, you published the New York Times bestseller ‘Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School’, in which you described and questioned the value of a business education. You have cited ‘Most top business schools don’t teach selling’. And you believe ‘Selling should be the first thing to teach, as everything in business flows from the sale’. Can you please tell us about the point of a business education? What’s going wrong with our business education?

Philip: A business education should enable someone to pursue their interests in a way that makes good financial sense. A lot of MBA programs charge a lot of money while under-delivering on this basic purpose. I also think the top business programs need to do a better job educating students on the social purpose of business. Better basics, more humility and lower fees would go a long way to fixing this.

Niaz: Still folks from different countries, states and cities across the world hope that teaching business and entrepreneurship will lead to initiate more start-ups and better businesses. Is their hope justified?

Philip: Education is always a good thing. But I think the teaching of business and entrepreneurship can be pretty crude and ineffective and there’s a lot of work to do in improving it. Also, it’s not just about educating individual entrepreneurs. The social and political context also has to favor them.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the aspects of business which can and cannot be taught, those which must be taught better, and those are not worth teaching at all?

Philip: Sales, evidently, should be more a part of MBA curricula. I’m intrigued by new just-in-time business education programs, which deliver teaching at the moment a businessperson needs it. That seems to make a lot of sense. The issue here isn’t what should or should not be taught at a high level. It’s about delivering value to the person who needs it. Business isn’t law or medicine, with a body of knowledge which has to be learned before you can practice. It’s much more fluid than that, and business education needs to reflect this fact.

Niaz: How educators and policy-makers should teach business as a means to improving the rate and quality of economic growth?

Philip: Focus on developing communities of businesspeople. Help facilitate connections. Listen to what these people ask for. Then get out of the way.

Niaz: What are you doing now at The Kauffman Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Education?

Philip: Writing about entrepreneurship programs, what works, what doesn’t.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors. Happy New Year Philip.

Philip: Thanks Niaz.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

Naeem Zafar: Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Editor’s Note: Naeem Zafar is the president and CEO of Bitzer Mobile, a company that simplifies enterprise mobility. On November 15, 2013 Oracle announced it has acquired Bitzer Mobile. As a member of the faculty of the Haas Business School at the University of California Berkeley, he teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the MBA program. He is the founder of Startup-Advisor, which focuses on educating and advising entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting and running a company. His entrepreneurial experience includes working directly with six startups, and he has extensive experience in mentoring and coaching founders and CEOs.

Mr. Zafar holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Brown University (magna cum laude), Rhode Island, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota. He is a charter member of TiE .He is also a charter member of OPEN where he serves as the Board member.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Naeem Zafar recently to gain his ideas and insights about StartUp, social business and entrepreneurship for better world which is given below.

Q: You’re a successful entrepreneur. As a member of faculty of the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, you teach entrepreneurship and innovation in the MBA program. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us what exactly is entrepreneurship?

A: Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It is a way to look at a situation and see how could you make a profitable venture out of it. It is very innate. People, educated or not in urban or rural setting, are just as likely to spot an opportunity and drive it to commercialization.  The likelihood is there just as it is for a Silicon Valley hotshot startup guy. So it transcends all boundaries of education, race and gender. It is a state of mind.

Q: You believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful tool to alleviate poverty and extremism of the world and social businesses can fill the gap where public institutions often fall short. Can you please tell us more about that?

A: If you think about the definition of a business….its objective is to maximize shareholder return. So the shareholder who invests in the company has an expectation that the management should do whatever it can to maximize return; that is perfectly fine. We have seen tremendous companies and innovation come out of that model. But if there were a concept of setting up a company with the sole purpose of not  maximizing shareholders return but to address its social ill….. that can work for alleviating poverty.

It can be something as simple as the city doing lousy job of collecting garbage. Let’s say the garbage is not being collected on time which is very unpleasant as we know. We can set up a company so that there speedy pick up and disposal of garbage. The purpose of that company is to address this social ill. It is not to maximize shareholder profit. Imagine setting up the company with that objective and shareholders putting in money. This company’s objective is for this social ill to be addressed and not to maximize profit. Now, it is still a for profit company. It still pays market wages and hires the best people to address the issue but it is not trying to maximize profit.

This model which can be very rewarding for the shareholders as it is a new way of looking at solving many of the problems which governments are not well suited to solve. That’s called social business. I think the concept is a powerful one. It’s put forward by the Nobel laureate, Muhammad Yunus, in his 3rd book and I think it is a tremendous way for communities to organize and address issues which plagued them without having to wait for government to show up.

Q: How do you connect these three dots: social entrepreneurship, alleviating poverty and making a better world?

A: If you look at my previous answer I just connected the three dots for you.  Making a better world is about alleviating poverty and giving people a chance to participate in economic growth and well-being. Social businesses and entrepreneurship is a way for them to have that opportunity.

In the country that I grew up in you look for government to give you a good job. However, the government is not well equipped to provide a job for everybody. On the other hand, the private sector is well positioned. As we have seen in US, the private sector produced even submarines, bombs and fighter jets. This was quite shocking to me when I came to this country.

The government’s job is not to produce goods. Its job is to set policies and systems so that companies and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Q: How did you find the idea for Bitzer Mobile? Can you please briefly tell us about Bitzer Mobile?

A: Bitzer Mobile’s technical founder, Ali Ahmed, was working as a software architect for large companies in insurance and oil verticals for many years. He continued to recognize that people were struggling to allow employees mobile access to data.

Ali was having to solve the problem for every company in a unique way. So the idea was, why not come up with the way so that the employees can easily and securely access corporate data and be productive from wherever they happen to be. And that gave birth to Bitzer.

Q: As far as I believe for changing the world, we need to find complex, interesting  and  big problems of the world and then have to build great organizations that will sustain in the long run to keep solving those problems as well as to keep contributing for the betterment of the mother earth. Can you please tell us how can we find interesting, complex and big problems of this world?

A: First of all, I don’t agree with your definition. It is not about solving big problems. It is about solving problems. Problems of all sizes. Sometimes all you have to do is look around you. There are problems in your community, where you live, where you work. Solve those problems. Big ideas come from people trying to solve small problems which turn into great movements. So looking for the great problems to solve is not the only way and may not be most efficient way to do it either.

Q: What are your suggestions on finding interesting ideas and bringing the ideas to life to solve?

A: Interesting ideas to solve come from deep domain knowledge. It’s very difficult for entrepreneurs when they are young to come up with ideas as they can be light weight. The average age of an entrepreneur in America is 37. This means that many people are older than 37 when they start their company. So only if you worked in the industry for 5-10 years you really understand what issues are, what the problems are, and then you can see how you can solve them. So my advice is:  look around you, work in some industry, learn the hard skills. Then you will see the problem and you will be well equipped to solve them. This is how you address this issue.

Q: What are your takes on finding the right business model and identifying early customers?

A: To find the right business model and early customers is simple. You should be able to answer these two fundamental questions: what problem are you solving and who has this problem.  If you cannot concisely answer these two questions you don’t have clarity in your head. I insist that people should talk to 5 to 10 actual users and buyers of whatever product they’re planning to buy and try to understand what their pain is. If you cannot clearly articulate what pain your customers have do not start the company. Then discuss with customers what you are planning to do and if this would be interested in it. If you cannot generate this early customer interest, do not start the company.

And stop worrying about confidentiality. People have other problems to solve in their lives. They are not running to copy your idea. It is the execution of your idea that is the hard part. By bouncing these ideas off suitable customers and users and consistently getting positive feedback, you may be in a position to start the company and then they likely will buy it. Everything else will clarify itself during the course of this process.

Q: Can you please tell us about the legal process of starting a company?

A: Legal process depends on in which country you are starting the company in, what the local regulations are.  My book which is a legal guide for entrepreneurs goes into fair amount of details: What is the process, what options you have in the United States. So read the book. It’s available at naeemzafar.com.

Q: As you’ve seen during Internet bubble, there were so many companies founded and were committed to change the world. But with the changes of time around 90% of them got obsolete. And we ended up having some great companies. Now, there are also so many startups working with cloud computing, big data, wearable technologies, space, robotics and so on. The data shows most of them will also get obsolete as the success rate of startups is very low. But there are always some common characteristics, values,  philosophies and ideas that  keep some startups alive and helps to sustain in the long run. You have profound experience of seeing all the trends as you have been advising companies and working with great entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. What are your suggestions on building the next big organization?

A: Aspect of building the next big organization is about solving a big problem. It is easy to spot what are the problems that need to be solved. All the trends you mention have tremendous potential.

Big data and business analytics can pinpoint precisely if you put a restaurant in the corner of this street and that street. They tell you what will be your monthly sales when you put it in the corner of that street and that street. So, the way businesses will be making decision could be based on not intuition but actual data.

If you read the book or watch the movie called Moneyball, it is about applying statistics to baseball. It is about how a mediocre team became the number one team by using big data. And that is applicable to every single business. So look for a big idea around you and build a great team with high caliber people. If you can put together a right market with the right team, you can build a lasting company too.

Q: How do you think about hiring remarkable people and let them scope to work on achieving vision that will change our world for good?

A: I think it’s good idea to hire remarkable people. You should do that. It’s not easy to do that. Remember the good people  will follow somebody which they can respect and whose vision they share. If you don’t have the passion and vision yourself why would A people, A players, best players follow you. Best players want to follow someone that they believe in. If you have that you shall attract the right team. And yes, you will be able to do great things. So step up to the stage and stage could be yours.

Q:  Whenever we talk about changing the world, thing that always comes first is changing ourselves. After changing our own life, we can go and change our family, then our society and then our country and then we can have a mission of changing the world to make it a better place to live in. But changing the world is hard, complex, challenging and hurting. You have come a long way and have already left a body of works to make this  world a bit more special. Can you please tell us about what your life has thought you in this amazing journey?

A: What my life has taught me is that it’s not a sprint. It is a marathon. So you have to create your own brand. You have to be genuine and honest and people will follow you . If you have  a vision that attracts people, you will have easy time attracting them.

So my advice to myself and other people around me is that if you’re a genuine person and a truthful person and you have a strong vision and can articulate it, you will have people willing to follow you. Once you have people willing to follow you then there is no challenge you cannot take tackle, no matter how big it is.

You will be able to overcome it over time and there are plenty of problems to follow around the world. But be true to yourself and always look for the team who is willing to follow you.

Q:  Last but not least, can you please give some advice to entrepreneurs who are on the mission of changing the world?

A: Changing the world is important and changing the world sometimes happens. But that is not the goal to start with. It is too big goal. It is too audacious and maybe even too arrogant to have this goal.

Martin Luther King did not have the goal of changing the world. He was just trying to change some laws so that black people could have equal rights. When Steve Jobs was starting Apple he wanted to do a music iPod. He was not trying to change the world. So I’m a little bit suspicious of your question because changing the world has come up multiple times.  Forget about changing the world. Do something meaningful for the people around you and your community. If you’re lucky enough it will have a big impact.  So think more practical and try to make local change. Stop worrying about changing the world – that will come later if you’re so lucky.

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Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Jillian C. York: Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

Editor’s Note: Jillian C. York is Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Before joining the EFF, York worked at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where she contributed to the OpenNet Initiative. Her work is at the intersection of technology and policy, with a focus on the Arab world. She is a frequent public speaker and has written for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Atlantic, the Guardian, Global Voice, Foreign PolicySlate and CNN.  With Katherine Maher, she has a regular web show, Interrobang, hosted on Bloggingheads.tv.

Jillian contributed chapters to the upcoming volumes Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communication, Journalism and Society (Palgrave Macmillan) and State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Political Engagement Worldwide (Ashgate Publishing).  She serves on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and on the Advisory Boards of R-Shief, Radio Free Asia’s Open Technology Fund, and Internews’ Global Internet Policy Project.

She says “I talk a lot around the Internets, and in real life–about free expression, privacy, anonymity, culture, and MENA.  I also talk about travel and post pictures of food.” You can get her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +.

To read her full bio please click here, here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Jillian C. York recently to gain her ideas and insights on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Jillian:  Thank you for having me.

Niaz: As an activist, you have been working with all great organizations and setting a trend of doing great works. You’re also a writer and a speaker. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about yourself, current works, projects and involvements?

Jillian: Certainly.  Right now, I’m working on some really interesting projects.  One is an effort to create a set of educational resources to teach people how to be more safe online…there are a lot of great guides and tools out there, but many of them are difficult to understand, or the resources are scattered all over the web.  We want to create a definitive set of resources that are easy to access and comprehend.

Another thing I’m working on with my colleagues is pushing governments to commit to a set of 13 principles for the application of human rights to communications surveillance (they’re at necessaryandproportionate.net).  We’ve gotten more than 300 organizations all over the world to sign on, and dozens of academics and experts, too.  Now we’re taking these principles to governments.

Niaz: You’re the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Can you please briefly tell us about EFF, it’s activities and vision?

Jillian:  EFF was born in 1990 in response to a basic threat to speech.  Since then, the organization has grown to encompass a variety of issues—free speech, privacy, intellectual property, open access—that face us in the digital realm.

In the United States, much of our work is done in the courtroom, but we also have a strong team of activists who raise our issues in Washington, DC and get support from all over the country and the world.  Our technology team builds tools and advises people and organizations on security.  And our international team, the team that I work with, works with organizations all over the world to create good policy, fight online threats, and help build a movement in favor of online free speech and privacy.

Niaz: What are the other organizations out there working for freedom of expressions?  Do you think we should have more organization in this area?

Jillian: There are so many!  There are global organizations like Access and Global Voices Advocacy and US-focused organizations like Free Press and Fight for the Future.  There are organizations all over the globe that I love and support, too…just to name a few, there’s Bolo Bhi in Pakistan, La Quadrature du Net in France, Derechos Digitales in Chile, 7iber in Jordan, MADA in Palestine, Digitale Gesellschaft in Germany, and so many more!

Niaz: How building similar organizations from different parts of world can help EFF to achieve its amazing vision? What are your messages for the youngsters working in nonprofits?

Jillian: Fundamentally, we believe in certain ideals, but we also believe that those battles are best won by local organizations, rather than by a US organization like ours coming in and trying to fix problems.  And so our strategy is to work in partnerships with organizations in other countries to help them build capacity or support them in their fight against a particular threat.  Of course, in this process, we also learn so much from our colleagues everywhere.

My message to youngsters would be that it’s worthwhile to do what you’re passionate about.  I’ve spent my entire career working in the nonprofit sector, and have found it incredibly rewarding.  It helps too that, through my job, I’ve developed friendships all over the world, which means I always have a place to sleep wherever I am!

Niaz: You also serve on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online. It has already become a true Global Media where people from all over the world doing citizen journalism and sharing amazing stories in different languages. At this point, can you please tell us about citizen journalism? How has citizen journalism been changing our traditional media?

Jillian: The problem that I have with traditional media is that it’s limited.  In the US, it’s limited by the (false) idea of “objectivity”, but also by the experience of its journalists.  I don’t think mainstream media is or should be dead, far from it, rather, I think that citizen journalism provides a supplement to more traditional media.  It helps us gain the human perspective of a story.

Niaz: How is Global Voices different from other traditional media? Why is it important to be different?

Jillian: Global Voices began as an attempt to cover what people were saying in the blogospheres of places where the mainstream media didn’t always reach.  Since that time, a lot has changed: we can now access more mainstream publications from different places in the world, giving us an insight into the perspectives of journalists there.  There is also a lot more content from certain places in English than there was a decade ago, which is helpful.

Today, Global Voices still seeks to accomplish that goal, but it’s also now available in dozens of languages, which I often think is even more valuable – it allows people in Madagascar, for example, to read content in their own language by and about people in say, Venezuela or Japan.  It’s that cross-cultural pollination that I find fascinating.

Global Voices is also unique in that it’s almost entirely run by volunteers.  There are fewer than 10 paid full-time employees, and more than 300 people working on the project at any time.

Niaz: Your work focuses on freedom of expression.  And you’ve a profound body of works on freedom of expression. Now can you please tell us about Internet Censorship? How does Internet Censorship affect freedom of expression as well as democracy?

Jillian: Censorship happens all over the world.  We often hear about China and Iran, which are by far two of the worst offenders, but we hear much less about the Internet censorship that happens in Vietnam, Jordan, and many other places.  In Vietnam, political content is censored and bloggers that challenge the state can be arrested for unrelated crimes.  In Jordan, more than 300 news websites were recently blocked after they refused to obtain licenses.  Censorship can be used for all sorts of purposes, but governments that censor the Internet tend to have one thing in common: they fear their citizens.

Niaz: Social media coverage is becoming increasingly common across media; do you see a fundamental shift happening in the way news is covered, particularly internationally?

Jillian: I do – I’m seeing a lot more agency given to the subjects of news articles.  It used to be that an American journalist could parachute in, write a story about a place, and have that story become the definitive narrative of a given situation.  Today, the Internet allows the “subjects” of that narrative to challenge it.  So when, for example, Tom Friedman writes a story about Egypt, you will often see Egyptians on Twitter challenging him about it.

Unfortunately, this is happening on the fringe of the media.  The Atlantic, for example, is doing a pretty good job of it, but the New York Times by and large still seems fairly oblivious.

Niaz: What do you think about social media revolution in terms of freedom of expression?

Jillian: I think that we’re looking at a net positive for freedom of expression, but with a serious caveat: the social media companies that host our speech can also exercise control over it.  This can be insidious, such as Facebook banning entire categories of expression (such as nudity or its ill-defined “hate speech”), but it can also be subtler.  We should be cautious and aware of the fact that the spaces we think of as the online public sphere are not public at all, but privately-owned companies.

Niaz: Do you think social media revolution is also the revolution of free speech? What do you think about the future of Citizen Media that will be able to scale freedom of expression?

Jillian: Yes and no.  I think that the social media revolution is about broadening the set of voices we can hear and that we listen to, but I don’t think we’re nearly there in terms of access to call this a speech revolution.  There are places in the world, like Yemen, where Internet penetration still rests below 5% of a country’s population, and there are other places, like Nigeria, where women report not feeling safe accessing public Internet spaces.  We need to solve the access gap before we can really proclaim social media as a revolution of free speech.

Niaz: What’s new about democracy in this digital era? How do you connect democracy, freedom of expression and social media revolution?

Jillian: I’m not sure we’re even close to solving the problems of democracy, but I do believe that social media opens up space for citizens to make their voices heard in an unprecedented way.  Take, for example, the recent nuclear deal between the US and Iran.  I watched while right-wing journalists decried the deal on Twitter, but their voices were drowned out by those of the people, the citizens, all over the world.  Before social media, those “expert” voices would’ve carried far more weight than they do now.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book chapter in the volume ‘State Power 2.0’?

Jillian: Sure – I wrote this chapter with Katherine Maher.  It covers the history of the Tunisian Internet—its infrastructure, censorship, surveillance—as well as the forces that led to a change in policies after the fall of Ben Ali.

Niaz: What are your suggestions to make our non-profit sector much more productive, scalable, efficient and effective?

Jillian: I think one of the key challenges is for non-profit organizations to think more like businesses, particularly when it comes to finding sustainable funding models.  Non-profits are all too often tied to foundations, which means they risk losing their funding at any moment.  We’re lucky in the United States, in that donations are tax-deductible, which means that organizations have a much easier time at getting individual support.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your new book ‘Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism & Society?

Jillian: Sure – this is a fantastic book put together by a group of academics. My chapter looks at the history and effects of leaking in the Arab world, starting with the Iran-Contra Affair and moving toward the future.

Niaz: Dear Jillian, thank you very much for your invaluable time and also for sharing us your amazing life story, great ideas, insights, experience and knowledge. We are wishing you very good luck for your good health and safe living along with for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Jillian:  Thank you so much, Niaz, this has been great.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Peter Klein: Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

Editor’s Note: Peter Klein, is Executive Director and Carl Menger Research Fellow of the Mises Institute and Associate Professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Missouri. At Missouri he also directs the McQuinn Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and he holds adjunct faculty positions with the Truman School of Public Affairs and the Norwegian School of Economics. His research focuses on the economics of organization, entrepreneurship, and corporate strategy, with applications to diversification, innovation, food and agriculture, economic growth, and vertical coordination. Klein has authored or edited five books and has published over 70 academic articles, chapters, and reviews.

He taught previously at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Georgia, and the Copenhagen Business School, and served as a Senior Economist with the Council of Economic Advisers. He is also a former Associate Editor of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. He lectures regularly at the Mises University and other Mises Institute events.

Klein received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He co-founded the popular management blog Organizations and Markets.

To learn more about him, check out this this this this and this.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Peter Klein recently to gain insights about entrepreneurship, economics and education which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Peter, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Peter: It’s my pleasure to participate!

Niaz: You are the prominent researcher, speaker, author, analyst and think tank in the field of entrepreneurship, innovation, economics, and education. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us about Entrepreneurship? What is entrepreneurship to you? What are the different contexts of entrepreneurship?

Peter: The terms “entrepreneur,” “entrepreneurship,” and “entrepreneurial” are used in many ways, not always consistently! On the one hand, entrepreneurship is often used to mean self-employment: an entrepreneur is a person who starts or operates a small business. On the other hand, we also use the term “entrepreneurial” to refer to something broader, a mindset or way of thinking that emphasizes novelty, creativity, and initiative. Obviously one can be entrepreneurial in this sense without being a small-business owner.

In the academic literature, things get even more confusing. Originally the word entrepreneur was identified with decision-making, risk-bearing, and responsibility: entrepreneurs were the business people who organized production, transforming resources into valuable products and services for consumers. That usage goes back to the 18th century. More recently, scholars have identified entrepreneurship with narrower activities or functions such as alertness to profit opportunities or the introduction of new goods and services or new ways to make existing products. In my academic writing I adopt the concept developed by the American economist Frank Knight and the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises which emphasizes judgmental decision-making under uncertainty.

This variety of concepts and definitions causes problems, both in academic and in popular discussions. I sometimes think it would be better if we avoided the language of entrepreneurship altogether! As an exercise, I require my PhD students writing about entrepreneurship to describe their dissertation topics without using the word entrepreneurship or any of its cognates. If a student is writing about venture capital and IPOs, then call it “new-venture funding,” not entrepreneurship. If she is studying how people evaluate and compare new business models, then call it “business-model evaluation,” not entrepreneurship. I typically find that if people struggle to explain a particular phenomenon or research question without using the language or entrepreneurship, they probably don’t really understand what they’re doing!

Niaz: Can you please define what an entrepreneur is?

Peter: As discussed above, there are many definitions floating around in the academic and practitioner literature. I prefer to define entrepreneurship as judgment, the act of combining and recombining heterogeneous resources under conditions of uncertainty. But arguing about definitions is often counterproductive. I prefer to think in terms of the research question to be answered, or the practical problem to be solved. Defining entrepreneurship as self-employment or technological innovation or opportunity recognition may be useful in some contexts, but not others. Let’s focus on the phenomena and relationships of interest, even if we disagree about the labels!

Niaz: Why do you think entrepreneurship is the fundamental stand of understanding economics? And how?

Peter: Unfortunately, most people see economics as a dry, technical subject that involves poring over charts and graphs and writing equations to describe the “equilibrium” behavior of hypothetical actors. But economics is a logical, deductive, human science about real people acting in the real world, with all the dynamism, unpredictability, and creativity that entails. Markets aren’t static, lifeless mathematical constructs but lively, vigorous spaces where people interact and coordinate. Firms, markets, and industries don’t just come into existence by themselves, they have to be created and operated by real people with real responsibility. These people are entrepreneurs, what Mises called the “driving force” of the market economy. That’s one reason I’m attracted to the “Austrian” approach to economics, which has always placed the entrepreneur at the front and center of production and exchange—not an incidental actor who steps in to introduce novelty then fades into the background as the “normal” market process resumes. Entrepreneurship, as decisive action under uncertain conditions, is at the very heart of a market economy.

Niaz: At eTalks, we believe entrepreneurship is a great tool that helps building sustainable economy. We also believe entrepreneurs are the rock starts those who work to keep economy growing. Both entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs are the driving forces and instrumentals to build strong economy. Now, how do you connect these three dots: entrepreneurship, economic growth, and development of a country?

Peter: If we think of entrepreneurship is the broad sense of judgment under uncertainty, then economic development and growth can not exist without entrepreneurship! It is the entrepreneurs who invest the capital necessary for productivity growth, who organize production into firms and industries, who compete and cooperate to create and distribute goods and services to consumers in the most efficient and profitable manner. If we think of entrepreneurship more narrowly, as small business or startups or venture funding, then the story is more complex. To be sure, smaller and newer firms are often disproportionately responsible for employment growth and, in some contexts, the introduction of new products and new technologies. At the same time, large enterprises can also be innovative, and capital accumulation is often critical to achieving economies of scale and scope, even in today’s “knowledge economy.” And not every individual wants to be responsible for owning and operating a small business. Unfortunately, large firms are typically more adept at securing for themselves special political privileges and protection against competitors, though small firms play this game as well. Ultimately, I am agnostic about what mix of small and large, new and mature, and high-tech and low-tech firms is best for economic growth; I prefer to let competition in free markets sort it out.

Niaz: As you know, America is a great country having being built all big and great corporations. In the last two decades we have seen the structural and revolutionary contribution of the most exciting companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon in American economy. But things are not happening in the same ways throughout the world. In some points, things are happening more devastatingly. Some countries are taking optimum advantages of cutting age technologies, disruptive innovation, and digital economy. On the other hand, most countries are lacking behind and economic condition is becoming worse. According to you what drives entrepreneurs to build great organizations? And what are the role of culture and entrepreneurial environments in that endeavors?

Peter: Clearly culture and environment are critical for the success of entrepreneurs, however defined. Unfortunately, there is little consensus in the research literature about the precise mechanisms by which culture, including social norms and beliefs, affects economic behavior. We have a general sense that cultures in which experimentation and creativity are rewarded, and failure is tolerated, are more conducive to the kind of risk-taking that entrepreneurship requires. At the same time, there are plenty of counterexamples—the Nordic countries, for example, are relatively egalitarian and homogeneous, while still being highly entrepreneurial.

When it comes to the legal and political environment, the evidence is clearer. Countries with strong property-rights protection, a well-functioning monetary system, and minimal government intervention in the economy provide the best environment for entrepreneurship and economic growth. There is a strong temptation among many government planners to try to micro-manage entrepreneurial activity through targeted subsidies, infrastructure spending, tax and regulatory codes that favor one type of firm or location over another, and other attempts to create geographic or industrial clusters of innovation. Everyone wants the next Silicon Valley in his country or region. But entrepreneurial clusters like Silicon Valley emerge, endogenously, from the bottom up; they cannot be established from the top down. To be sure, strong “anchor” entities like research universities and established companies are important for kick-starting local entrepreneurial activity. But most attempts by government planners to target particular areas or activities for an entrepreneurial boost have fallen flat. The policy environment should also allow the “freedom to fail”—no bailouts and subsidies for unsuccessful ventures! Monetary and fiscal policies designed to “stimulate” the economy are also harmful, as they tend to generate asset bubbles and other forms of price inflation that make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to plan and invest.

Niaz: Why don’t we see big organizations getting formed in other countries? What are their core challenges?

Peter: Well, we do see large-scale enterprise around the world, but it often takes different forms such as diversified business groups, keiretsu, chaebols, and the like. Often these large groups are nominally private, but closely connected to the state, which tends to extend them special privileges that make it more difficult for them to innovate and compete internationally. Size is great when it results from superior performance on the market, but not so good when it comes from subsidies and political connections.

Niaz: How can they overcome those challenges?

Peter: Newer and smaller organizations looking for sustained growth have to find a balance between doing the things that made them successful in the first place—acting with boldness and imagination, being willing to experiment, finding the right niche—and developing routines and capabilities that keep it going. Often there is a change in mindset; in the early stages, founders feel like outsiders, Young Turks shaking up the establishment with little to lose.  Over time, the competitive landscape changes, and the outsider becomes the incumbent. This creates two problems: the team may still be in startup mode, still fighting the old battles, or it may become complacent, unaware of the potential competitor around the corner.

Complacency is a common problem for any successful organization. Clay Christensen has shown how large companies—and, I’d add, other large organizations like universities—struggle to adapt the newest and latest technologies. They are often too successful at what they already do, too effective at serving their existing customers using existing methods, too reluctant to disrupt their existing revenue streams. Of course, large and successful companies can also be innovative, typically by delegating decision authority to subunits, providing strong incentives for performance-enhancing innovations, setting up “skunk works” and internal corporate ventures, and other strategies. But it is not easy, and many large firms fail to adapt to changing circumstances.

Niaz: What other countries can learn from Silicon Valley and from its culture, environment, attitude, and innovativeness?

Peter: As noted above, Silicon Valley is a unique case and difficult to duplicate. What we see there, as in other successful innovative clusters, is strong anchor entities (e.g., Stanford University, Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1950s and 1960s, Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s and 1980s), a concentration of highly skilled and highly mobile workers, local venture funding, and a dose of serendipity. Economists have been studying agglomeration—the benefits of locating similar or complementary activities in geographic proximity—since Alfred Marshall’s work in the 1890s. Paul Krugman’s academic reputation rests partly on his elaboration of Marshall’s insights (not, incidentally, for anything Krugman wrote on macroeconomics!). Once a cluster emerges, it can exploit economies of scale: skilled workers, attractive firms, and aggressive funders want to be located close to each other. The trick is to get the cluster started in the first place. Nobody knows exactly how—otherwise we’d have Silicon Valleys all over the place.

However, it’s also important to recognize another force, what we might call economies of diversity. The late Jane Jacobs masterfully demonstrated that the growth and vitality of cities stems not from the way they cluster similar or complementary people and activities, but how they bring together a wide variety of dissimilar, and seemingly unrelated ones. Exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking is more likely in a diverse, heterogeneous environment. So maybe we should care less about same-industry clusters, and think more about how to encourage interactions among firms and industries doing radically different things.

Niaz: In this information age, now we seriously need to redefine, rebuild, and redesign our Higher Education to help us in pursuing entrepreneurial, actionable, and effective knowledge to learn, grow, and work to contribute in global economy. What are your suggestions to change and build an effective education system?

Peter: That’s a huge question. I can’t speak authoritatively on primary and secondary education but I have strong opinions on the structure of the higher-education industry in the US and Europe. Basically, the established universities are the privileged incumbents who tend to be swept away by the disruptive innovation Christensen talks about. Most are highly inefficient, slow to embrace new technology, and highly dependent on public subsidy. Technology has encouraged many new entrants, mostly at the low-quality end of the market. The incumbent universities have responded by discouraging people from consuming these entry-level products—“Those online, for-profit universities are fly-by-night organizations, they don’t offer real degrees like we do!”—but I do not think this strategy can succeed in the long run. At present the established universities are coasting on their reputation for quality. Reputation lags are long, so it may take time for consumers to begin voting with their dollars and feet for more innovative, lower-cost competitors.

In short, the higher-education industry is poised for a new generation of entrepreneurs, in both the for-profit and non-profit spaces, to experiment with new forms of educational content, new production and delivery methods, new ways to package information, and a range of further innovations we cannot yet foresee. MOOCs are but one highly visible manifestation of this. I find it ironic that the established universities are struggling to embrace the MOOC, seeing it as a way for them to leverage their brands and extend their market shares. They assume that, in the future, students in the developing world will be taking online courses from Yale or Illinois. I think it’s more likely that students in New Haven or Urbana-Champaign will take courses from some brilliant and articulate lecturer in Bangalore.

Niaz: To me a great entrepreneur is someone who understands economics, can see the big picture, and analyzes the things globally. He is also an economist, a research scientist, and a remarkable doer. What are the core things of economics and globalization should entrepreneurs be master at?

Peter: I think everyone should understand basic economics—say, by reading Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson. Most of economic principles are common sense: there’s no such thing as a free lunch, benefits and costs should be compared at the margin, voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial, actions often have unintended consequences, and so on. Basic knowledge about globalization—the radical drop in communication and transportation costs, the often-surprising differences in legal, political, and social rules and customs around the world—is important too. But I don’t think a deep theoretical knowledge of economics or international trade is a prerequisite to successful entrepreneurship. Intuition and experience are typically more here valuable than “book learning.” (And I say that as a university professor!)

Niaz: What are your advices and suggestions to entrepreneurs to find big and complex problems, to build actionable business model to work to solve those problems, and to make this world a better place to live in?

Peter: The most important advice is not to listen to people like me. Seriously, one can fill a large library with books about entrepreneurship, innovation, competition, and business success, most written by scholars or journalists or policymakers without any experience or expertise with actual entrepreneurship. Thinking conceptually about entrepreneurship, and studying the great entrepreneurs of the past, can be useful and informative. Knowing basic accounting, finance, and marketing is important. But these things are neither necessary nor sufficient for entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurial judgment, as Mises put it, “defies any rules and systematization. It can be neither taught nor learned.”

From a social or policy point of view, I think we need an environment in which those who wish to experiment with entrepreneurship can do so. Many people are attracted to “wicked problems,” for the intrinsic satisfaction of solving them as well as for financial gain, and we should allow people young and old, novice and experienced, to try their hands, knowing that they can reap the rewards if they succeed, but will have to bear the costs if they fail.

Niaz: Last but not least, if you could send a message about the benefits of entrepreneurship, what would it be?

Peter: As educators, I think it’s critical to remind people who are not entrepreneurs—I’m looking at you, politicians and journalists—that entrepreneurship is the driving force of a market economy, and that entrepreneurs need property rights, the rule of law, sound money, and free and open competition to be successful.

Niaz: Dear Peter, thank you so much for your valuable time and sharing us your invaluable idea, experience, and knowledge which will help us to pursue entrepreneurial excellence.  We are wishing you very good luck for your good health and for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Peter: Thanks for the great questions, and I look forward to reading future entries in your series!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Stephen Walt on Global Development

5. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

6. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

Diego Comin: Entrepreneurship, Technology and Economic Development

Editor’s Note: Diego Comin is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. He received his B.A. in Economics in 1995 from the University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain and his PhD in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, Comin has been Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. He is also Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. Comin has also been fellow for the INET and Gates foundations and consultant for the World Bank, IMF, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Citibank, and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) of the government of Japan.

You can read his full bio from here. To learn more about his research, ideas and knowledge, check out this this this and this.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Diego Comin recently to gain insights about entrepreneurship, technology and economic development which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Comin: The pleasure is mine.

Niaz: You’ve received your bachelor degree in Economics in 1995 from Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain and PhD degree also in Economics from Harvard University in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, you were the Assistant Professor of Economics at New York University. And you have been Associate Professor of Business Administration at HBS since 2007. You’re also an honorable Research Fellow at the Center for Economic policy Research and Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Economic Fluctuations and Growth Program. At the very beginning of our interview can you please tell us something about ‘Entrepreneurial Economics’?

Comin: Entrepreneurial economics is the area of economics that studies the causes and consequences of entrepreneurship.

Niaz: How would you define the connection and contribution of economists and entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial economics to accelerate economic growth?

Comin: Often, when entrepreneurs found new companies they tend to utilize new technologies in production accelerating their diffusion. In other instances, new technologies are created to develop and commercialize new technologies. Hence, entrepreneurship may foster economic growth both by contributing to the creation and to the diffusion of new technologies.

Niaz: You’ve been working for so long with primitive technology dataset. What does actually the primitive technology dataset measures?

Comin: I should refer the reader to my paper with Erik Gong and Will Easterly “Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000BC?” at the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics (July, 2010). Basically, it measures whether certain significant technologies were present in the geographic areas that correspond to modern-day countries long time ago. For example, printing presses in 1500 AD.

Niaz: Can you please share your knowledge with us about Primitive Technology?

Comin: There are basically three key findings. First, cross-country differences in technology adoption were very large in the distant past (i.e., 1500 AD, 0 and 1000BC). Second, past levels of technology are highly correlated to current levels of technology. In particular, the levels of technology of our ancestors in 1500AD predict 50% of current cross-country differences in productivity or technology. Finally, the reason for this humongous persistence is that some technological knowledge associated with the adoption of historical technologies helps adopt current technologies.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the diffusion of technology?

Comin: The moment technologies are invented, in principle they are ready for people around the world to use. However, most people and companies do not use them right away. Technology diffusion is the field that studies how and why technologies are adopted the way they are.

Niaz: What are the factors that affect the shape of the diffusion of technology?

Comin: There are several factors that may affect the shape of diffusion curves. How long ago a technology first arrived to a country, the level of income and its evolution, how intensively the technology is eventually used in the country, the rate of improvement of the technology and the productivity gains associated to these improvements, the potential complementarities of one technology with others, and the diffusion of technology in neighboring countries.

Niaz: Your research consists on studying the process of technological change and technology diffusion both across countries and over time. As you know, cutting edge technology, super innovation and evaluation of social media have been changing everything. We are in the golden era of Digitalization. Economy is also transforming to Digital Economy. Can you please tell us about Digital Economy? What has changed and what’s new in this digital economy?

Comin: The digital economy lowers the costs of transferring information. And by making information cheap it reduces the costs of bringing new technologies to all the corners of the world. However, it is important to be aware that the reduction in the costs of transferring information precedes (by a lot) the digital economy. One advantage of having direct measures of technology that span 200 years is that one can uncover long-term trends that are not obvious to the naked eye. When looking at my data, I observe that the acceleration in the speed of diffusion of technologies started with the industrial revolution and it has been unraveling smoothly since then.

Niaz: Things are not happening in the same ways all over the world. Digital Divide, Broadband Connection, Availability of Technology, Lacking of Knowledge and some other constraints have been putting under developed, developing and poor countries behind. How large is cross-country differences in technology adoption? How can underdeveloped, developing and poor countries take optimum advantage of digitalization?

Comin: That question raises an interesting point. Though technologies are more readily available in all countries than 100 or 200 years ago, the gap in the intensity or use (or penetration rates) that we observe between rich and poor countries has widened. (Marti Mestieri and I document that in a recent paper “If Technology Has Arrived Everywhere, Why has Income Diverged?” NBER wp#19010.) It is not easy to explain why this has been the case but it seems that the super low cost of transmitting information are not sufficient for a large number of potential users to know how to apply new technologies (in developing countries). Information is not the same as Knowledge.

Niaz: In near future, I hope we won’t have that much difference in our online and offline life. At the same time, we have started to live a life that is more likely science fiction. Living such an exciting era what do you think about the future of digital economy?

Comin: It seems safe to conjecture that in the future (and probably in the present too) the constraint will not be information but our ability to do something with it. I guess that the challenge for the digital economy will be to help on that front.

Niaz: What are you economic advice to young entrepreneurs, startups founders and CEOs? What are the things they should always keep in mind to grow and excel with their startups?

Comin: I think it is important to be always aware of what’s the core of the company; the area/activity where the company is really great. And always evaluate how actions or strategies affect/complement the core.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Comin: Both as a fundamental driver as well as a manifestation of other drivers, technology is key for the economy and society.

Niaz: Dear Diego, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas knowledge and insights. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your future endeavors.

Comin: Thanks very much. I also wish you good luck with eTalks.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Philip Kotler on  Marketing for Better World

2. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

3. Stephen Walt on Global Development

4. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

Joseph Nye: Global Politics

Editor’s Note: Joseph Nye is an American political scientist and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He currently holds the position of University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University where he has been a member of the faculty since 1964. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. He is an author of some great books including Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; Understanding International Conflict; and The Power Game: A Washington Novel. In 2008 he published The Powers to Leadand his latest book published in 2011 is The Future of Power. He also spoke at TED on Global power shifts.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here. To learn more about his ideas, insights, research and experience on global politics, you can read his personal blog and huffington post blog.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Joseph Nye recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of global politics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Joseph, thank you so much for joining us. We are honored and thrilled to have you at eTalks.

Joseph: Thank you Niaz for having me.

Niaz: At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about ‘21st Century’s Global Leadership’?

Joseph: As the National Intelligence Council report on the world in 2030 concluded, the US is likely to remain the leading power in world politics, but it will be primus inter pares and have to pay attention to others.

Niaz: Who are the current aspiring global leaders to you?

Joseph: The most important is China, but Europe remains important when it is able to act as an entity, and India and Brazil are increasing their roles.

Niaz: As you know globalization, information technology, social media, technological innovation and digital media have been revolutionizing our life significantly. Now, in what kind of international world do we live?

Joseph: I use the term ‘Global Information Age’ to describe the current world.

Niaz: As the rise of globalization and as the spread of international community, how our society is changing? Is the way to achieve socio-political success also changing?

Joseph: I believe that global interdependence and the current communications revolution will continue to increase, so success will require adapting to these forces.

Niaz: Keeping in account this configuration, how do you see the near future?

Joseph: It will vary in different areas. I expect the US to remain strong, and China to grow at a slightly slower rate than in the past decade.  I worry about how long it will take Europe and Japan to recover higher rates of economic growth.  The future of the Middle East remains most uncertain.

Niaz: In 2004, you have published your book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics’. What does soft power mean?

Joseph: Power is the ability to affect others to get the outcomes you want, and that can be done by coercion, payment or attraction. Soft power is the ability to get the outcomes you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment.

Niaz: How is soft power the means to success in world politics?

Joseph: Soft power alone is rarely sufficient for success, but it is often necessary for long-term success.

Niaz: Some people have started to believe that Google is going to control the whole world. By this time, we have seen Google to use its monopoly power. Google’s search algorithms “decide” what is relevant and valuable. Isn’t it tempting for democratic and free-market states to seek control of these technologies in order to exert the kind of “soft power” you describe?

Joseph: Google is a powerful company, but it faces competition from other companies, and anti trust scrutiny from the European Union and the United States.

Niaz: In your book The Power to Lead you argued that leaders need both soft power and hard power. Can you please tell us a bit about hard power? And how leaders can combine soft power and hard power?

Joseph: The ability to combine hard  power (coercion and payment) with soft power  in a manner in which they reinforce each other is what I call a smart power strategy.

Niaz: As you know there’s a dilemma between individual power and power of society, because if one person has power to attract and control whole society, what others can do?

Joseph: It is important to have constitutional limits to prevent one person from controlling the whole society. The American founding fathers accomplished this by creating checks and balances so that power could not concentrate in the chief executive. It makes for inefficient government, but it preserves liberties.

Niaz: We see from time to time, people with power dominate and control the whole society. As a result, mass people, businesses, democracy, capitalism suffer profoundly and the society starts malfunctioning. Can you please briefly tell us about how to use power to make our society a better place?

Joseph: In addition to the constitutional checks and balances, it is important to have a strong civil society, including a free press able and willing to criticize the government.

Niaz: And what are the responsibilities and roles political leaders should play to make sure that no one is abusing power?

Joseph: Self-restraint by leaders is also part of the solution.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about your latest book, which was published in 2011, ‘The Future of Power’?

Joseph: The Future of Power has chapters on the meaning of power, military power, economic power, soft power and cyber power.

Niaz: Having said that, which countries are going to play major roles in the future power game?

Joseph: In addition to the US, China and other countries mentioned above, non state actors will play a larger role in future power games.

Niaz: What are the challenges for other countries? And how can they come forward and join in this power game.

Joseph: Keeping a strong civil society that is open to the outside world is crucial to success in the long term.

Niaz: Dear Joseph thanks again for your invaluable time. We are enlightened with your ideas, knowledge and experience. We wish you good luck for all of your endeavors. Take very good care of yourself.

Joseph: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

F. M. Scherer: Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

Editor’s Note: F. M. Scherer is Aetna Professor Emeritus in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Born in 1932, he received an A.B. degree with honors and distinction from the University of Michigan in 1954; an M.B.A. with high distinction from Harvard University in 1958; and a Ph.D. in business economics from Harvard University in 1963.

From 1974 to 1976, he was chief economist at the Federal Trade Commission. His research specialties are industrial economics and the economics of technological change, leading inter alia to books on Patents: Economics, Policy and Measurement; Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance (third edition with David Ross); New Perspectives on Economic Growth and Technological Innovation; The Economics of Multi-Plant Operation: An International Comparisons Study(with three coauthors); International High-Technology Competition; Competition Policies for an Integrated World Economy; Mergers, Sell-offs, and Economic Efficiency (with David J. Ravenscraft) and Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives.

You can read his full bio from here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed F. M. Scherer recently to gain insights about Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: You are an expert in Industrial Economics.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Industrial Economics?

Scherer: “Industrial economics,” the name commonly applied in Europe, is also called “industrial organization” in the United States.   It is primarily concerned with studying the functioning and malfunctioning of real-world markets, using an array of methods – theory, econometrics, and history.  It also has substantial policy implications, for example, encompassing all varieties of regulatory policy and antitrust policy (called in Europe competition policy).

 Niaz: How is industrial economics different from our traditional economics?

Scherer: The main differences are a strong real-world orientation and a focus on individual industries or markets rather than generalized markets or the overall macro economy.

Niaz: As you know, the economy is transforming to a digital economy.  What revolutionary changes have occurred in this era of digital economy?

Scherer: Virtually every era experiences changes that might at the time be viewed as revolutionary.  The digital economy is not really different.  I suspect most readers know the main elements: the enormously increased capacity and reduced cost of digital devices following Moore’s Law; the evolution of much more capacious means of transmitting information from one place to another – notably, optical fiber cables; and the application of information theory to compress more information into a given transmission medium, either cable or over-the-air.  Building upon these fundamental changes are a host of specific applications, ranging from smaller and more powerful computers to smart phones to the use of computers and robots in automation.

Niaz: What are the impacts of industrial economics in our digital economy?

Scherer: The field of industrial economics has evolved to track and understand the economic implications of the changes mentioned earlier.   We’ve done a lot, for example, to measure the economics of learning curves, which are one facet of Moore’s Law.  Perhaps our most important contribution has been a rethinking of the proper framework for, and means of, regulating specific industries, including telecommunications.  Regulatory reform in telecoms helped open the way for optical fiber cable networks and reassignment of the ether’s frequency space to new modes of information transfer.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about the future of the digital economy?

Scherer: Economists don’t have a particularly good reputation for predicting the future, try as we may.  It’s quite clear, e.g. from studies by economists such as Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT, that more powerful computer systems are helping to raise industrial productivity, as non-digital innovations have been doing for at least two centuries.  Among other things, computerized systems have improved inventory control and logistics in industries such as retailing.  Wal-Mart has been a prominent example here.  But the phenomenon is not really new.  In the 1960s, for example, Anheuser-Busch applied computer-based operations research to optimize its plant structure and shipping patterns, becoming in the process the nation’s largest and most efficient brewer.  And my own experience as a scholar using computers for quantitative data analysis suggests that the changes have been less than revolutionary.  I was able to analyze some rather large data sets successfully in the 1960s using computers that were by today’s standards primitive, but the analysis went through nevertheless.  Long processing queues meant foregoing instant gratification, but the gratification was all the greater for the waiting.  True, today one can access richer data bases – e.g., data on millions of health care interventions, complete retail product transaction tape records, and the whole historical set of U.S. patent grants – that would have been impossible in 1965.

The digital revolution affects not only industrial productivity, but also diverse consumer activities, including communication patterns and entertainment methods.  Here I’m much less confident about the consequences.  Surveys show prodigious numbers of hours spent in the average week, especially by younger people, on computer games and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many individuals’ use appears from my observation to border on addiction.  (Disclosure: I seek an e-mail fix several times daily.) I suppose people get a lot of pleasure, some narcissistic, from social networking, but I’m much less sure that we are becoming better or more productive human beings as a result.

Education is likely to be affected with special force through the growth of massive open online courses (MOOC).  I’m personally thankful that I’m exiting from teaching just in time, for I know nothing more alienating than talking to an anonymous video camera.

Niaz: There is a tremendous problem of digital divide in under developed, developing, and poor countries.  What are the core challenges for those countries to embrace the blessings of digital economy?

Scherer: Yes, there is such a digital divide, just as there is a less immense digital divide between the United States and nations such as South Korea, Japan and Belgium with faster and more extensive internet connections.  The good news is that cell phone technology is diffusing rapidly into many relatively poor nations, permitting richer intercommunication generally and better information, e.g., on future weather events and market prices, which farmers can use in their planting, harvesting and crop shipping decisions.  From the base that has been established, there will be growth into more advanced generations of digital phone capabilities.  Important to this future progress is the construction of additional cells and high-capacity optical fiber cables to interlink them.  Cheap computers are also becoming available to students in less-developed nations, giving them richer access to the world’s information resources and enhancing their educational progress and, among other things, introducing them to writing software.  These things take time and money.  Both are in short supply, but progress will occur, perhaps faster than I suppose.

Niaz: So what are the new perspectives on economic growth and technological innovation?

Scherer: I suspect the wording of your question implies the identical wording of a short book I published in 1999.  My answer incorporates some of the pessimism I expressed in that book.  The world’s most advanced nations have experienced truly extraordinary technological progress and productivity growth during the past two centuries.  Some nations once viewed as less developed, such as China, are joining in, taking advantage of what has been learned elsewhere to advance at even more rapid rates.  But in the most advanced nations, growth rates have been ebbing, and nations like China and other later developers will experience diminished growth rates once they have extensively installed imitative  capital goods and must then innovate to advance further – a phenomenon called convergence.   The key question is, what can we sustain?  My own view is that environmental constraints, even if not raw resource constraints, will make future growth more difficult than it has been in the past.  But I confess I could be wrong, as other skeptics have been in the past, and indeed, I hope I am wrong.  I also worry about the increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth that has occurred over the past four decades as skill requirements, patterns of international trade, and modes of competition have changed.

Niaz: Can you please tell us about your book, ‘Innovation and Growth: Schumpeterian Perspectives’?

Scherer: That was a collection of articles, mostly previously published, issued by the MIT Press in 1984.  It pretty well reflected what I had accomplished during the first two decades of my professional career, at least in the field of technological innovation.  Its main emphases were identifying salient characteristics of how innovation occurs and works its magic on the economy, how market structures affect incentives for investing in innovation, and  how innovation shortfalls contributed to the productivity growth rate slump experienced by the United States beginning in the early 1970s and continuing up to the time the book was published.  (Growth did pick up, at least temporarily, in the 1990s.)  These were, I believe, some of my best contributions.

Niaz: What are the new scopes and opportunities of innovation and growth?

Scherer: As I said before, predicting what will happen is difficult.  In the 1984 Innovation and Growth book, I included one 1978 article with my characterization of technologies that were still evolving rapidly.  My list of potential breakthrough areas included molecularly engineered pharmaceuticals, hormonal insecticides, asexual plant reproduction, optical fiber message transmission, and energy from thermonuclear fusion.  Making allowance for developments that emerged in somewhat different forms than I visualized, I was pretty much right on the first four.  I missed badly on the nuclear fusion score, which people had been cultivating intensively beginning in the 1960s and are still pushing without evident success.   Earlier in the list, I also erred seriously in classifying digital computers as “approaching maturity.”  I completely missed the PC revolution!  The big continuing breakthrough areas, as I look to the future, are further developments in human and plant gene sequencing and splicing, among other things revolutionizing some aspects of health care, and of course, continuation of the information revolution.

Niaz: Do you think we have already solved all of our interesting problems with technology and innovation?  If not, what are your suggestions to come up with big ideas and solve big problems?

Scherer: Clearly, we have not solved all the interesting problems.  The previous answer listed two of my breakthrough candidates.  The biggest yet-unsolved problem in my view is learning how to use energy in ways that will allow the world’s huge and increasing population to prosper without precipitating disastrous climate change.   Seeding the atmosphere with sunlight-deflecting substances is one possible solution, but it is unproven and poses significant risks of getting the balance wrong.  How do we come up with the big ideas?   The essential facet in my view is continuing support of first-rate basic scientific research across a wide diversity of fields.  Chairman Mao was right in urging that we allow 100 flowers to bloom, because we can’t accurately pre-select which ones will thrive best.

Niaz: What is the economics of technological change?

Scherer: It’s a sub-specialty in several fields of economics concerned with the issues I have alluded to earlier.  I’ve been working in the area for more than five decades.  In the 1950s and 1960s, there were only a handful of us.  We were the “happy few … the band of brothers” in Henry V’s soliloquy.   Now there are hundreds of us working in the vineyards.

Niaz: My readers will love to know about your new book, ‘Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the 18th and 19th Centuries’.  Can you briefly tell us about it?

Scherer: It unites two dominant interests in my life: classical music and the study of innovation.  It uses among other things a statistical sample to reveal how 646 composers kept body and soul together in pursuing their chosen profession or avocation.  Among other things, it investigates composers’ education, their motives, their employment modes and entrepreneurship, their remarkable geographic mobility, and how they were affected by the spread of music publication and the emergence of copyright law.

Niaz: Last but not least, can you please leave us some points, ideas and advice to build a strong economy in this era of digitalization?

Scherer: You left the hardest question until last.  Education is of course critical.  We’ve come a long way, but there is very much more to be done, especially in the less affluent nations.  And even in the United States, our results leave lots of room for improvement. Among things, we need to provide higher status and pay for primary and secondary school teachers.  For economic strength, we also must reverse the increasing inequality of income distribution.  If the majority of our citizens don’t share the gains from our economic growth, it will be difficult to sustain continuing advances in broad-based consumption technologies.  And discontent is likely to manifest itself politically in ways that could destabilize the economy.   And finally, we need to avert disasters such as rising sea levels and adverse crop-growing conditions likely to be associated with global warming and to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle.  I grew up under the ominous shadow of nuclear disaster.  We had some frightfully close calls.  We’ve been fortunate thus far to avoid that fate, but the danger continues, and we need to keep it in check.

Niaz: Dear Scherer, I am thanking so much for finding time, sharing invaluable ideas and educating us with impressive thoughts in the midst of your busy schedule. I am wishing you very good luck for your good health as well as for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Scherer: I am happy to contribute.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Robert Stavins: Environmental Economics

Editor’s Note: Robert Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Director of Graduate Studies for the Doctoral Program in Public Policy and the Doctoral Program in Political Economy and Government, and Co-Chair of the  Harvard Business School-Kennedy School Joint Degree Programs, and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

To read his full bio, please visit here, here and here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Robert Stavins recently to gain insights about Environmental Economics which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Robert, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are so honored to have you at eTalks.

R. Stavins: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are one of the most influential voices in environmental economics and the field of environmental economics is more important than ever.  At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about environmental economics?

R. Stavins: In a market economy – the form of economic system that is now found in nearly all countries of the world – the cause of environmental problems are fundamentally economic, namely the fact that environmental pollution is an externality, a negative, unintended consequence of economic activity, whether carried out by individuals or firms.  In addition, the consequences of environmental problems have important economic dimensions.  For these two reasons, economics and economic analysis provide an exceptionally useful lens through which to examine environmental problems, so that they are fully understood, and so that as a result public policies can be designed which are environmentally effective, economically sensible, and therefore more likely to be politically pragmatic.

Over the past two decades, environmental economics has evolved from what was once a relatively obscure application of welfare economics to a prominent field of economics in its own right.  The number of articles on the natural environment appearing in mainstream economics periodicals has continued to increase, as has the number of economics journals dedicated exclusively to environmental and resource topics.  Likewise, the influence of environmental economics on public policy has increased significantly, particularly as greater use has been made of market-based instruments for environmental protection.

Niaz: Do you think environmental economics is conflicting with capitalism or market economy? Why or why not?

R. Stavins: At first blush, many people think of the phrase “environmental economics” as oxymoronic – an internal contradiction – since it’s either the economy or the environment.  Although there are typically trade-offs between environmental protection and narrowly-defined economic well-being (i.e., financial well-being), for the reasons I stated above, environmental economics is not an internal contradiction, but rather an effective discipline with which to study the performance of proposed and implemented environmental policies.

Niaz: What are the distinctive perspectives of environmental economics that make it the next big thing for entrepreneurs, innovators, economists as well as researchers?

R. Stavins: Given the threat of global climate change, which will bring seriously economic damages when it occurs and which will require significant economic sacrifices to mitigate, an environmental economic perspective is increasingly important for a broad range of sectors in private industry.

Niaz: Dear Robert thanks again for finding time in the midst of your busy schedule.

R. Stavins: You’re welcome Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Peter Klein on Entrepreneurship, Economics and Education

2. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

3. F. M. Scherer on Industrial Economy, Digital Economy and Innovation

4. Diego Comin on Entrepreneurship, Technology and Global Economic Development

5. Stephen Walt on Global Development

6. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

7. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Big Data Revolution

Editor’s Note: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He has published nine books (most recently Big Data: A Revolution That Transforms How we Work, Live, and Think with Kenneth Cukier) and is the author of over a hundred articles and book chapters on the governance of information. He is a frequent public speaker, and sought expert for print and broadcast media worldwide. He and his work have been featured in (among others) New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Nature, Science, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Tribune, WIRED, Ars Technica, Daily Kos. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Viktor Mayer-Schönberger recently to gain insights about his ideas, research and works in the field of Big Data which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Viktor, thank you so much for joining us. We are very delighted to have you at eTalks

Viktor: My pleasure.

Niaz: Big Data has become a talked topic in these days. A very tight hype about Big Data is going on over tech industry. Big Data means ‘Making sense of the New World’ to many people.  Can you please tell us about this ‘New World’? What has actually changed? And what does ‘Making Sense of New World’ mean?

Viktor: What’s changed is that in the past, we weren’t able to apply to data to help our decision-making since the cost of collection, storage and analysis was so high. But as those barriers have fallen, we are not able to harness lots of data — and when we do, we can unlock new insights from it.  Take predictive maintenance. We didn’t know when an engine part would break before it did in the past. Now, looking at lots of sensor data like sound, heat and vibrations – from tens of thousands of vehicles, through big data analysis companies can spot that a part is likely going to break in the near future, and change it before it actually breaks. That’s new. It’s a new way of interacting with the world in a more empirical, quantified way. And it’s because of the data.

Niaz: How do you define the term Big Data?

Viktor: We resist giving a concrete definition since that would limit it. But basically, it refers to the idea that we have so much more information these days that we can apply new techniques to it, to spot useful insights or unlock new forms of economic value. There are things we can do with a large body of data that we simply couldn’t when it was in smaller amounts. In our book, we identify three features: more, messy and correlations.

Niaz: What is Data Science?

Viktor: The idea is that a new profession that has emerged in recent years, that combines the skills of the statistician, software developer, infographics designer and storyteller. Instead of peering into a microscope to discover the mysteries of the world, the data scientist looks into massive databases to uncover a finding. That said, since it’s a new job title, what it means will surely change over time.

Niaz: What is more important: Big Data vs. Data Science?

Viktor: The two are not at all at odds with each other. Big data is when there is vastly more data available relative to the phenomenon or question to be investigated than before; when we are accepting of some level of messiness of the data; and when we are using big data correlations to tease out the “what” rather than aiming to understand the “why”. The data scientists work with data, sometimes but not necessarily always “big data,” to analyze the information and extract meaning from it.

Niaz: Who is a Data Scientist?

Viktor: These are people who serve a useful interface between the hard-to-understand data, and the people who need to understand and make decisions from it.

Niaz: Do you think Data Scientists Job is the sexiest job in 21st Century?

Viktor: There are lots of sexy jobs in the 21st century. A data scientist is just one. Statisticians, machine-learning expert are others.

Niaz: What are the educational backgrounds, trainings, skills and expertise that someone needs to become a Data Scientist?

Viktor: The data scientist will need a multidisciplinary background that spans math and statistics, to computer science, design and the humanities. This is because one needs to be fluent in the language of data — how to run regression models and double-tailed T tests. But also possess coding skills to write programs to scrap data, clean data, or simply collect data. Then, one needs to eye of a designer to present the data visually. And storytelling skills to have the data reveal a narrative. Finally, one needs a deep sense of humanity — to ensure we are not beguiled by data’s false charms, and we keep our common sense amid the spreadsheets.

Niaz: You along with Kenneth Cukier have published a book ‘Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’ which has already become a best seller. Can you please give us a brief on your impressive book?

Viktor: In “Big Data” we aim to go beyond the big data hype, and explain why big data represents a paradigmatic shift in how we understand and make sense of the world. We suggest that three qualities characterize big data: more, messy and correlations (see above), and that big data analysis is founded on our ability to datafy the world – that is to render more and more aspects of the world into data format that then can be calculated and analyzed. We look at the value of data – and the importance of secondary uses, as well as the emerging big data value chain. We explain who will be winning and who will be losing in the big data era. But not everything is rosy. We talk in detail about big data’s dark sides – from its challenge to privacy to the threat of punishment by propensity. We suggest concrete safeguards to ensure that the dark sides of big data remain contained, including suggesting the need for a new cadre of professionals – the “algorithmists” – that will help protect us against big data abuse. We end with a cautionary chapter about the importance of the human element in a world of big data.

Niaz: After publishing the book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, you have been speaking, engaging with readers and getting feedback. Now what are your new findings?

Viktor: It’s still the first inning — it’s still round one for big data. So before we think about what’s next, we need to get the word out about how transformational this will be. That said, every day brings new case studies of how companies and organizations are unlocking new value by harnessing information in new ways.

Niaz: Now Big Data is becoming an integral part of the organizations. Organization has started to hire Data Scientists having a strong belief that Big Data means Big Opportunity. Do you think Big Data means Big Opportunity?

Viktor: Absolutely. For those with the right mindset, data offers huge opportunities. There is a gold rush under way – as people, companies and society realize that most of data’s value remains to be uncovered.

Niaz: What is the dark side of Big Data?

Viktor: In the book we look multiple dark sides. In addition to privacy, we are particularly concerned about propensity – the use of big data analysis to hold individuals responsible for acts they are only predicted to commit. That we fear negates human volition – our ability to decide freely whether and when to act. Punishing people for predicted rather than actual behavior is undoing the notion of justice in our society.

Niaz: How to overcome this dark side?

Viktor: On privacy we suggest we need a significant adjustment in the way we protect it from big data surveillance, so that big data benefits can be reaped without making a mockery of individuals’ justified privacy concerns. But we also suggest that in the era of big data we need to broaden our understanding of justice – and what it entails.

Niaz: As you know Poverty has been ruling the world for centuries. Billions of people have been living hand to mouth and suffering from lack of nutrition, lack of education, lack of sanitation, lack of food etc.. There are hundreds of social organizations those who have been working with poverty and social problems. At the end of the day, these social organizations are unable to measure the changes they have made. Or we could say, they might fail to bring sustainable changes though billions of dollars have been invested by donors and other sources. But these poor people have been suffering and living almost the same life for decades after decades. Now can you please tell us how Big Data can be a help to analyze, map, measure and formulate the problems of poor people?

Viktor: Yes. There are two problems with measuring the plight of the poor in a small data age: it costs a lot of time and money to collect data about them, and it is hard and costly to analyze that data. In the big data age, we can use data that is collected for other purposes – say micropayments through mobile phones – and reuse it to better understand the economy of poverty. And because big data analysis is relatively cheap, and no longer requires huge upfront investments in processing and storage infrastructure, sophisticated big data analysis can be undertaken by a handful of people working for instance for a civil society organization.

Niaz: Do you think we can design and program solutions of our social problems with the help of Big Data analysis?

Viktor: Big data can provide us with a much better sense of what policy areas need to be addressed first, and what results our policy decisions might produce. But at the end of the day, machines cannot take decisions, humans do. And so whether or not we find solutions to our social problems depends not on big data, but on human empathy and resolve.

Niaz: Please tell us about how Big Data can be a great help to measure the changes that social organizations bring?

Viktor: Social organizations often do good things, but their impact is hard to measure – in part because in a small data world collecting such information was very costly. In the age of big data that may change, and thus give social organizations perhaps for the first time a chance to analyze and see how well they are doing, and where. That helps these organizations to learn and evolve, and to improve their impact.

Niaz: Can you please suggest us ways of changing this world with the rigorous use of technology and innovation to solve our social problems to make this mother earth a better place to live in?

Viktor: Take medicine: Today we are using medication developed for the average person, rather than customized for a particular individual. This means that today we over- and under-medicate. As a result billions are wasted, and people are suffering. Big data provides us with the ability to change this – so that we can treat illnesses on an individual level, and learn. It increases effectiveness, but more importantly it improves lives. But for that to happen we need to be able to collect and use the data.

Niaz: Viktor, thank you so much for your time and for all of these impressive ideas.

Viktor: You’re most welcome Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. James Kobielus on Big Data, Cognitive Computing and Future of Product

2. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology

3. Ely Kahn on Big Data, Startup and Entrepreneurship

4. Brian Keegan on Big Data

5. danah boyd on Future of Technology and Social Media

6. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on Evolution of Technology and Innovation

7. Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing

8. James Allworth on Disruptive Innovation

Trond A. Undheim: Entrepreneurship and Social Change

Editor’s Note: Trond A. Undheim, Ph.D.,  has over fifteen years of multi sector experience in strategy, policy, communications, academia, and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. Formerly, he was a Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at Oracle Corporation, with wide responsibilities in long-term business development, strategy, public policy and standardization globally and in Europe. Trond is an executive, speaker, entrepreneur, author, traveler and blogger. You can read his full bio from here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Trond A. Undheim recently to gain insights about Entrepreneurship and Social Change which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Trond, thank you so much for your time in the midst of your busy schedule. We are honored to have you at eTalks. You teach Global Economics and Management as a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. You are a leading expert on strategy, technology policy, entrepreneurship and the role of technology in society. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about entrepreneurship?

Trond: Entrepreneurship is to see, seize and share an opportunity to change something for the better in a lasting, institutional way, by creating a company, entity, program or initiative which provides services, generates products or makes concepts that can be traded or enjoyed by many. That was a mouthful, I guess: entrepreneurship is about embracing risk, change, and convincing people—this is sometimes hard.

Niaz: What is the significance of entrepreneurship in global economy?

Trond: As the trading of physical commodities gradually shrinks, entrepreneurship is about to become the only valuable commodity in the global economy. The reason is—it is all about flexibility. All sources of comparative advantage are temporary. The time window for innovation is arguably getting somewhat shorter every minute. This being said, entrepreneurship takes many forms. It is not just about startups, and the culture of entrepreneurship is different in each country. In my work with Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), at MIT Sloan School of Management, I have found that even as emerging markets are at different stages of development and each have their own culture, the desire to innovate is the same among young entrepreneurs everywhere. All they want and need is to see good examples in front of them. Our student teams help out with getting quicker through the process, escalating change throughout society. But it starts one-on-one. It must build up. So, as significant as entrepreneurship might be, it is a slow force.

Niaz: How are technology, innovation and entrepreneurship integrated with each other? How can this integration be a help for the global economy?

Trond: There is entrepreneurship without technology but it is less effective. There is technology without entrepreneurship but it is futile and short lived. There is innovation wherever there are people connecting the dots between entrepreneurship and technology.  Without integrating the three, there will be no global economy, only elite pockets of internationalization.

Niaz: Do you think technology, innovation and entrepreneurship could be the solution to Poverty? How?

Trond: Despite new solar cooking devices, peer lending schemes, or cell phone empowered social movements, there is no single solution to poverty. For too long, technology has been thought of as a panacea that solves all problems, but we are far from it. Technology opens certain opportunities and forecloses others. Moreover, even though it initially may seem technology transforms opportunities for everyone, it usually, in the end favors the established elite or those who have resources to take the most advantage of it. This is the reason there are still problems everywhere we look around us, despite what many call ‘technological progress’, ‘information age’ or ‘globalization’.

We have increased the differences between people, and hence the opportunity both to succeed and to fail, spectacularly. Herein lies the challenge of integration; the globally economy theoretically connects things, but someone needs to establish those connections and re-establish connections when broken. Innovative initiatives that mobilize people, share information, gather knowledge, discuss best practices, or create marketplaces of ideas, products and services across boundaries of time, place, resources, and ability, will definitely contribute to the poverty issue in various ways. However, the issue is too complex for one strain of innovation to transform it all. Change needs to trickle down. Change needs to spread out. Change needs to bubble up. Poverty is clearly a multi-faceted problem that will fascinate, frustrate and motivate smart people, organizations and institutions to act for decades to come.

Niaz: Throughout history, high tech industries mostly belong to developed countries. As a result, under developed and developing countries alike have lagged behind. Can you please suggest us some ways to help those countries to come up with proper strategies to get involved with high tech industry to contribute to the global economy?

Trond: High tech industries are fostered by individual initiative, investors who are willing to take risks, and by a willingness to go to or even create markets where there yet are none. However, as small ecosystems of high tech entrepreneurship start forming even in countries that are not yet on the radar as emerging economies, each time, it gets easier. The challenge is to get enough launch momentum. Typically, what we see is that entrepreneurs, given such challenges, either are funded from outside the country by particularly risk prone or long perspective persons or institutions, or are a result of family money. Only in a few cases will angel investors emerge on their own, since they typically are former high tech entrepreneurs themselves. One strategy is for government incentives to stabilize and attract expats back to contribute. Another is to focus attention on particular locations around a strong university. A third is to build the products at home but use the born global concept to immediately try to act on the global market, or more realistically, one selected foreign market.

Niaz: You worked at Oracle Corporation as the director of standards strategy and policy, where you lead global business development, drove standardization, and influenced government policy in the EU. What do you think about the core challenges of entrepreneurs of third world countries have in order to come up with great ideas to build global technological business as well as to contribute in global economy?

Trond: The core challenge is to acquire the right set of skills and grasp the attention of funders and potential customers early enough, and before your money (and motivation) run out.  Moreover, another tough challenge is to convince the establishment that ideas matter, which means people around the entrepreneur—the first clients and investors must not just nod to existing power structures. They may need to be prepared to accept causing a bit of a stir. Entrepreneurship is a dangerous force to those not prepared to change or to those with vested interests to defend, such as established ways of doing things, monopoly markets, successful products, or healthy revenue streams that may be threatened by a new entrant, however small.

In terms of standardization, entrepreneurs should keep in mind that one thing is to have a novel idea, but a whole other thing is to be able to enact infrastructure change across a whole new market. To do that, you need to think in terms of standards, following standards, shaping standards, creating new standards that people will go along with. It is a negotiation game. You either join or try to create an ecosystem and then try to make it surround you and your customers. You cannot go it alone. Even Oracle learned that, early on, as that company was a startup facing the giant IBM. Oracle picked up the importance of having a database standard and built a great product around it. Look at where it is today. Larry Ellison can create a Japanese lake in California, own luxurious boats, and buy a Hawaiian island. Not a bad life to some. But, frankly, I think entrepreneurship is about much more than the money you create. It is about the relationships you build and the pride you get out of creating something new and at the same time something lasting.

Niaz: How to overcome those challenges?

Trond: I think the best way to overcome such challenges is to enlist team members who have experience from abroad. That way, you can bring change along with you. The other thing is to align with the forces for change within the country. You cannot turn everyone, but you actually only need to turn one-by-one. Every entrepreneur has heard this, and everyone knows what it means: be prepared not to take no for an answer. Beyond that, you need to find something that is actually doable. There are many good ideas out there but not all are doable. Doable for you, that is, in your situation. Make sure you have a good story. Storytelling can overcome most challenges. Even dictators, monopolists, and old money love a good story.

Niaz: You have also served as the national expert of e-government in the European Commission, where you created ePractice.eu, the world’s most successful best practice initiative in e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion. Can you please give as a brief of these terms: e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: E-government is when public services are reorganized and ideally improved or made cheaper or more convenient using ICT, although that is a tall order. E-health applies ICT to citizen/patient interaction, health-service providers, institution-to-institution transmission of data, or all of the above. E-inclusion aims at reducing gaps in ICT usage in order to improve economic performance, employment opportunities, quality of life, social participation, and cohesion.

Niaz: What is the response to the ePractice.eu initiative? What are the significant changes that have occurred because ePractice.eu?

Trond: ePractice.eu blends online and offline interaction on good practices in using ICT for services of public interest. It brings a varied set of around 100,000 stakeholders together, government policy makers, consultants, the ICT industry, NGOs etc. So far, it contains 1626 self –submitted cases from 35 countries around the world, For the EU, it has radically improved information and knowledge sharing. It has achieved significant momentum. Joining the community has tangible value, people attend workshops, contribute views, share, and learn. It is a true knowledge community, virtual and physical.

Niaz: What are the steps could be taken by the policy makers of third world country to get the maximum benefits of e-government, e-health, and e-inclusion?

Trond: As the UN e-government survey reveals each year, there are indeed gaps between nations’ internet readiness. This is unfortunate but something we all need to take into account. The issue is not just access to the internet, but what content is accessible once you are on the internet and which skills you have to make sure you can benefit and contribute. The challenge is multifaceted: education, training, specific skills, infrastructure, and content. Even the countries who have invested a lot of resources occasionally, some would say too often, get it wrong. This stuff is not simple. You need awareness across the supply and delivery chains.

Niaz: You have published your book ‘Leadership From Below’. Can you please give us a brief of ‘Leadership From Below’?

Trond: Leadership From Below, for me, is two things. A perspective on leadership: No need for a position in a hierarchy to have influence. A perspective on life: lead when you need.  There are many books out there right now tapping into the fact that the web seemingly has lowered barriers to lead. However, what I am saying is not that. There are still barriers. Technology is not really the point here, although it can help (and hurt). The point is to reconfigure the notion of what it actually means to lead. It simply has nothing to do with somebody giving you power from above (despite what those who elect the pope might think). True power can only emerge from below, from trusted relationships. Even God Almighty in Christendom was of the opinion that it was wiser to send his son Jesus to earth to convince people of the state of things than to simply tell them with a roar from above.  Even smart CEOs realize this. They know they are accountable to the Board, to shareholders, and to society at large (well, at least some CEOs think this way).

Leaders at all levels need to reflect upon what it takes to achieve real, lasting influence. Using force always has a cost. In fact, getting your way always has a cost, especially if it is recognized that you benefit from it. Instead, leaders need to embrace the somewhat slower, but surer process of involving peers in small-scale change efforts that have ripple effects across teams, organizations, and societies.

So, leadership from below is not simply a message to a new generation of leaders, or to small-scale leaders. It is the essence of true leadership. Leadership from below is not just a trend. In fact it is a stable feature of any society but it has recently become trendy. Oh, and one more thing, I did not write the book to say we should not accept any authority. My view is not anti-hierarchy, but a-hierarchical, or beyond hierarchies. I say: Follow when you can. Lead when you need.  Finally, since I wrote the book back in 2002, I have reflected a bit more and taken in some criticism, too. As it turns out, hierarchy remains systemic part of society. The reason is complexity. Things are getting complicated out there. The other is delegation. People love to delegate. Once you delegate, you give up power.

Niaz: What is the set of advice you would like to leave behind for technology geeks, innovators and entrepreneurs?

Trond: I wanted to leave a little piece of advice from my research on strategy failures in high tech entrepreneurship. First of all, it seems too few of us are willing to take a serious look at negative outcomes. This is unfortunate because there is a lot of learning to be had. But since those stories are often buried (although I am about to uncover some), every time you hear of a success story, try to find out what challenges have been overcome to get there. You will soon find that it is often those who have overcome the greatest challenges who succeed in the long term. Why, well, because they have also learned resilience.

If you want to learn more about this, follow my research on strategic outcomes in Cleantech firms. Essentially, we know that a lot of cleantech companies have failed over the last decade. There are many reasons why, but for the benefit of humanity, we need to ensure that some succeed and clean up our planet before it is too late. This is my agenda. It turns out both governments, multinationals, VCs, and entrepreneurs are interested in my work. We should indeed learn more from failure and we should talk about it. There is no shame in failing as long as you can reflect around how to do things different next time, or tell others about the perils of the unforeseeable unforeseen.

Niaz: Thank you so much for sharing us your ideas. I am wishing you good luck for all of your endeavors.

Trond: You are very welcome. It was a pleasure to speak with you, Niaz, and best of luck in your exciting entrepreneurial endeavor, eTalks. What a great concept: asking a set of great questions to people and change agents across the globe over email and letting them answer these questions on their own time without the pressure of a word limit or timeline. This is perhaps one of the keys to the future of communication: letting people speak. Sounds simple but it rarely happens.

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Further Reading:

01. Philip Kotler on Marketing for Better World

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Rita McGrath on Strategy in Volatile and Uncertain Environments

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Gerd Leonhard on Big Data and the Future of Media, Marketing and Technology